In drought-plagued Southern California, precious water evaporates fast. Irrigation output must be closely studied to ensure compliance with regulations.

Mapping Civic Sprinkler Metrics

Aug 10, 2015 · 5 min read

How Irrigation Output Can Be Investigated and Controlled with GIS

By Rogelio Matta, Senior Administrative Analyst, and Joe Field, GIS Administrator, Fontana Public Works Department

If someone asked you, as a GIS professional, to create a way to tell whether parks or other public landscaped areas were being watered in accordance with drought regulations, what would you recommend? Of course, you’d have to advocate using geographic information system (GIS) technology. Sprinklers, valves, and water meters are features, after all. Also, you’d need a way to measure current water application and compare it to a scientifically determined target. You’d have to know practical things such as how much water to apply and how much area you need to wet. Finally, you’d need a place to store all the data; information, such as water meter size and location, would have to reside somewhere.

Soon, it would become obvious that several disciplines would be required to construct such a system — especially one with the end goal of making subsequent output monitoring and corrections easier. Our project started with such a realization. With prolonged drought conditions plaguing California and strict water use regulations recently being imposed on municipalities in the state, applying water efficiently in urban landscapes — such as parks, parkways, and medians — is top priority. Doing it correctly requires resources and time to create and manage a system that only applies water in the amounts actually needed to keep the landscape lush.

Many Disciplines

Ideally, no water would ever be wasted, but no system can save every drop. The challenge is to get as close as possible. Our project required a multidisciplinary team: Esri; Lucity; city IT and field staff; and local water purveyors, such as the Fontana Water Company, Cucamonga Valley Water District, and the West San Bernardino County Water District. The local water purveyors provide us with actual consumption data. City field staff program and operate the weather-sensitive, computer-controlled irrigation systems that apply the water to the parks and landscaped areas. IT staff manage data and mobile tablet distribution. Lucity asset and maintenance management software provides the databases for data capture, reporting, and necessary calculations.

Water Usage before Implementation of the Water Application Management System: Before having the new system, irrigation output was unnecessarily high. Each dot represents a water meter’s output. Red indicates output is over budget, while green shows output is within budget.

Finally, and most importantly, GIS staff creates the user interface for showing meter status, thus telling the story of the overall expenditure at a glance. Esri software displays the data, location, and status of meters so that we know what we’re dealing with on the larger scale and can respond accordingly.

Using What We Had

Taking full advantage of existing and emerging GIS technology is getting us closer to the ideal water output. We’ve implemented a system to manage our water application expressed in a GIS-based tool to monitor performance and visualize our success in conserving water. The Water Application Management System now gives us significantly more control over output than we ever had. We use the system to determine appropriate water budgets and monitor water application as specified by guidelines in California Assembly Bill 1881 — the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance — and the city’s Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance, both of which mandate that municipalities only irrigate the amount necessary and stay within water budgets.

According to the California Irrigation Management Information System, 58 inches of water are lost in Fontana through evapotranspiration annually. If the goal is for us to replace that much water with the least amount of waste, we need to see the whole picture to gain control of the system. Our system consumes data from local weather stations, central computer irrigation controllers, radio communication, water budgets, and water consumption records. We monitor all that data through Lucity’s GIS interface, which provides a visual condition status, comparing actual water output to planned consumption. It shows the difference between the two on a map. The importance of seeing this comparison in a GIS map can’t be overestimated. Numbers on Excel spreadsheets don’t convey the comparison as vividly.

Zooming Out

After we collect the landscape areas within GIS and associate the correct meter to the area, we have solid data to geoprocess: we map the sprinkler information that shows the monthly usage rate in ArcGIS. From there, we generate a map service that contains the results of a selected set of data within Lucity and join it to the meter. Next, we create a web map using the map service, JavaScript, and HTML5 to display the meter by consumption value. One major advantage of Esri’s use of JavaScript is the ability to mash up code from outside sources and use it within our application.

Water Usage after Implementation of the Water Application Management System: An abundance of green dots demonstrates that the city gained control of water output.

We have created what we believe is the only system of its type operating in the United States. Our water application management tool is simple to use and able to provide water budgets and monitoring for the 844 acres of public landscape, 533 water meters, and 539 irrigation controllers (growing in number every day) that the city manages. Since our system is fairly typical for a public works department, it can be duplicated by other agencies and will produce similar results. The steps would be much the same:

1. Capture supporting datasets like landscape area, water meter, and meter area.
2. Create water budgets for each water meter.
3. Create and load the databases to store data, and then compare budgeted versus actual water consumption.
4. Create the web map to view the water meter status.

If you need to get your water budget under control, GIS is the logical way to start. While much work still remains ahead in evaluating and improving our irrigation system efficiencies, mapping sprinkler metrics has already resulted in a reduction of wasted water amounting to $200,000.


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Esri pursues mapping and spatial analysis with visionary products and services that define the science of GIS.

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