When properly designed, drip can be the most efficient method of irrigation, delivering a steady stream of moisture directly into the roots of plants without the evaporation that occurs with sprays, rotors, and sprinklers. But you’d probably be surprised how much water this technology can waste when poorly designed and scheduled.
There are of course, plenty of ways to install it wrong: you’ll see bizarre piles of overlapping, tangled drip tubes; lines spaced too close together; or arranged in rigid geometric patterns where nothing is growing.
Even without the evaporation, poorly designed drip systems can use as much water as ordinary sprinklers. The SAWS “designer drip” rebates requires an 18-inch emitter spacing on the tube and 18-inch spacing between the tubes and individual emitters rated at 0.6 gallons per hour.
Even when it’s functioning properly, it’s hard to see the water with drip – no visual cue when it’s running, or when it’s leaking. Many irrigators use colorful pop-up indicators so customers can see when their drip lines are pressurized. SAWS requires these pop-up indicators
But of course, many of the issues with drip come from not from design but from scheduling. Drip runs longer than other irrigation types — 45-60-minute run times are not uncommon – so any leaks are magnified over a long run cycle. What the pictures can’t show is that many of the featured drip systems were set to water every day. Remember, the whole purpose of drip irrigation is to provide, one to two weeks’ worth of water. There’s never a need to run it more than once a week.
When properly designed and programmed, drip is one of the most efficient methods of irrigation. Just remember to familiarize yourself with the system; it’s not a bad idea to walk through it while it’s running. SAWS Conservation offers irrigation audits; just call 704-SAVE (7283) or Consult@saws.org to schedule a consult.
|Ideal Drip Irrigation with Inline Tubes|
|Tubes||0.6 gallons per hour, 18 inches between emitters|
|Spacing||18 inches between tubes|
|Water||½ inch per week|
|Precipitation||0.43 inches per hour|
|Run Time||60 minutes|
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About our expert
Brad Wier is a SAWS conservation consultant. Years in South Texas landscaping and public horticulture gave him a lasting enthusiasm for native plants that don’t die when sprinklers -- and gardeners -- break down. He’d rather save time and water for kayaking and tubing. He is a former kilt model, and hears hummingbirds.
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