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Water usage and costs have decreased between 55 and 57 percent in Roswell, located north of Atlanta.
Four years ago, irrigation in Roswell, Georgia, looked something like this: sprinklers across the city’s 900 acres of park land would run for 15 minutes, regardless of whether the grass was in need of water. Once or twice per week, staff members would visit each park to check saturation levels, according to Mark Holder, the city’s sports turf and parks coordinator. The system worked, but wasn’t particularly efficient.
In 2014, Holder came upon a better method: a friend working at the University of Georgia had been using UgMO, a wireless soil moisture monitoring system, to irrigate sports turf.
UgMO—which stands for underground monitoring—regulates water usage by measuring soil moisture, temperature and salinity in real time on a zone-by-zone basis and then irrigating, or not, based on the numbers. The company works with homeowners’ associations, universities, hospitals and a handful of cities and counties, including Sacramento, California; Boca, Florida and Phoenix.
Holder was intrigued.
“I went up there and looked at it and saw the value in it,” Holder said. “We brought it here and implemented it with the blessing of our city council, and it’s been really good for us ever since.”
Since installing the system in 2014, the city of Roswell has decreased its water usage and costs by an average of 55 to 57 percent, Holder said. (Thirty to 80 percent is standard, according to UgMO.) Employees can monitor soil moisture from their computers or smartphones, which saves time and gas money by eliminating the need to visit parks in person. The location-specific data helps the city develop comprehensive management strategies for individual areas and to better time fertilizer applications for optimal nutrient uptake.
But the most measurable outcome is decreased water usage, Holder said.
“We have a moisture percentage that we want in our soil. It varies by the ballfield type or if it’s a memorial garden or the town square,” Holder said. “There’s a wireless sensor in the ground that sends real-time readings to the irrigation clock and lets us know where we are on that moisture scale. If it needs watering, it waters automatically. If it falls within that scale, it doesn’t water, and that’s where we’re seeing the savings.”
The city’s total savings amount to more than 20 million gallons of water and roughly $297,297, according to UgMO estimates. Roswell pays for the service by splitting those cost savings with the company, though other customers use a fixed-price service agreement with guaranteed savings—meaning UgMO guarantees that customers won’t pay more for the system than they’ll save on their water bills.
“We’re thrilled to partner with a municipality so clearly striving to be at the forefront of water conservation,” Mark McCarel, UgMO’s chief operating officer, said in a statement. “No strangers to the delicate balance between water conservation and essential landscape health, Mark and his team sought out innovative ways to ensure they were using water in the most efficient way possible. Staying on the cutting edge of this technology certainly paid off in this case, reducing the city’s water bills, conserving millions of gallons of water and saving hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
In Roswell, officials have the city’s share of the profits to invest in new equipment and hire more staff. Feedback from residents has been generally positive, Holder said.
“People are really interested in the technology,” he said. “Water is such a hot-button issue, so the fact that we’re saving not only gallons but dollars is helpful to us.”
Maintaining the pristine condition of the city’s athletic fields is another plus, McCarel said.
“Looking at it from an agronomic perspective, the data delivered by the platform allows the city of Roswell to create the best field conditions possible for its residents,” he said.
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.