SALT LAKE CITY — The sprinklers came on at the Brickyard Condominiums and the rain has been regular visitor to the Wasatch Front the past few weeks.
Still, there were brown and yellow splotches of grass and a few obvious problems where vegetation was still needing a drink of water.
The Slow the Flow Water Check Program, a free service, is a way for property owners to improve the efficiency of their irrigation systems, conserve water or make other adjustments, such as landscaping with water-wise plants.
Kelly Kopp, program administrator, and Tanner Smith, a technician, were conducting the water audit Tuesday at the condominium complex, where they expected to spend most the day assessing two key factors: the precipitation rate achieved through the sprinkling system and how uniformly water is distributed.
The Utah State University Extension runs the program in partnership with the Utah Division of Water Resources and multiple water districts. It is available along the Wasatch Front and multiple other areas of the state, including Cache, Carbon, Washington, Summit and Duchesne counties.
"It is surprising how many people don't really know what they need to water their landscapes," said Kopp, a professor of soils, plants and climate at USU.
Utah is the nation's second-largest consumer of water, according to the program, with the typical homeowner using twice the amount of water as necessary for landscaping.
Effective management of water resources has been a top priority for Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who convened a water summit in 2013 with a collection of experts to identify water concerns — and potential solutions — and put some strategies in play.
At Brickyard, community manager Elvie Nelson said the board of owners singled out landscaping as a key issue and wanted some way to arrive at more efficient irrigation that saves water and money.
"They wanted to tackle the landscaping and learn how they can be more water-wise and find out if the current system that is in place is doing the job it needs to be done," she said. "The goal is to find out if we can swap out sprinklers, pick plants that are more water-wise and how to move forward in making the property more environmentally sound."
The program uses specifically designed cups placed strategically throughout an irrigation zone to measure the amount of water collected. The crew inputs the information into a computer to arrive at an assessment designed to identify flaws, or efficiencies, in the sprinkler system.
For Brickyard, one particular zone indicated a precipitation rate of 1 inch per hour and achieved 59 percent in uniformity of application.
"That is actually quite good," Kopp said. "65 percent would be really good. It is not doing a bad job in terms of uniform application."
Many inefficiencies in a property owner's watering system stem from simple problems such as tilted, broken or sunken sprinkler heads. There may be leaks, or heads are not spaced properly.
Kopp added that there could be a problem going on with the soil — maybe it is compacted or too sandy — which interferes with the plant's take up of water.
The program has been in place for 16 years, but the prolonged drought in Utah and elsewhere in the West is creating heightened awareness over the need to use water wisely.
This year, the Utah Division of Water Resources launched the H2Oath initiative, inviting residents, business owners and government agencies to take a pledge to conserve water through a number of ways, such as cutting down time in the shower by a minute and checking for leaks in sprinkling systems.
Josh Palmer, division spokesman, said hundreds of people — including cities — have signed on to take the pledge.
"We are pleased with the response and especially we feel that the people who have taken the oath are serious about it. We have people who are really putting in a lot of thought where their water waste is in their own lives and taking steps to change that."
Kopp said many residents fail to regularly check their sprinkler systems for problems, which can develop over the winter with the season's freeze-thaw cycle, which is hard on water delivery systems.
Nelson said the Brickyard board members are excited to institute some of the recommendations that come out of the program's audit.
"This is a great program, especially for a property like ours. We have four acres of landscaping that needs to be addressed so we can continue to have it be what it is and still be conscious of living in a desert."
People can sign up for the service at cwel.usu.edu/watercheck.
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