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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Mitch Lord, executive vice president of Orbit, talks about the B-Hyve Wifi Sprinkler Timer at Orbit in North Salt Lake on Wednesday, June 14, 2017.

NORTH SALT LAKE — Being able to control his home irrigation system from his smartphone saved Riverton resident Greg Palmer from a sad ending to his family vacation last year.

While out of town, he received notice that the secondary water system from which he draws would only be available on certain days of the week. On his old, timer-based system, Palmer's lawn would likely have withered to brown. But, thanks to a computer-controlled, climate-based irrigation system he had purchased from Utah's Orbit Irrigation Products, Palmer was able to make a quick and easy adjustment.

"I pulled up the app on my phone, reset the system for the days that my neighborhood was scheduled for, and that was it," Palmer said. "Without the change, my yard would have just burned up. When we got home, the grass looked great."

And the B-Hyve system that Palmer installed last spring not only makes monitoring and tweaking a breeze thanks to a user-friendly phone app, the digital brains behind the controller help conserve the Beehive State's most precious resource — water.

Brad Wardle, Orbit's director for the B-Hyve system and digital products, said the controller accounts for multiple lawn and landscape characteristics and incorporates real-time weather condition reports, via a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite, to optimize results for users. He also noted the system captures the company's 40-plus years of knowledge and experience in innovating irrigation solutions.

"Every yard is a microclimate," Wardle said. "With B-Hyve, you're accounting for soil type, slope, sun exposure and changing weather conditions. It makes all the adjustments for you."

B-Hyve not only ensures your lawn looks great, but the savings in water use are significant.

Wardle said his company's smart controller can garner as much as a 50 percent reduction in water use. Using older, timer-based systems, he said it's typical for users to schedule an every-other-day cycle, which leads to about 92 watering days in a typical Utah summer. B-Hyve's climate-reactive system carves about half those waterings out, making adjustments for recent rainfall as well as having the ability to put scheduled waterings on hold if precipitation is in a near forecast. Later, it will even account for a make-up watering if rainfall is sparse. And, with an average residential watering cycle consuming about 2,000 gallons, the conservation factor is significant.

"We estimated that the B-Hyve system captured 1.1 billion gallons of water savings in its first year on the market," Wardle said.

Utah State University professor Kelly Kopp, who specializes in turfgrass irrigation efficiency and smart irrigation systems, said technological advancements captured in new, computer-controlled watering systems are a boon to conservation efforts.

"The idea of scheduling irrigation on local conditions and local weather is absolutely sound and a great way to conserve water," Kopp said. "When we schedule irrigation without accounting for local weather conditions, we’re just guessing and we tend to guess high."

Kopp is currently engaged in a research project assessing the efficacies of smart irrigation systems like the B-Hyve and said the systems are part of a larger trend of connected, intelligent home management systems that help optimize resource use.

"The latest iteration of smart irrigation systems has brought them into the realm of the internet of things," Kopp said. "These are akin to internet-connected and controllable devices like thermostats and lighting controllers. Like those, there's a great potential for improving how we consume limited resources."

Stuart Eyring, Orbit's chief operating officer, said that conservation element has been at the heart of his company's guiding principles for developing new products.

"Our motto has been conservation through innovation," Eyring said. "And now we have the technology online to make that an easy and affordable reality."

Eyring also noted the company is dominating market share for residential irrigation systems and components and has additional new products in the pipeline aimed at increasing its offerings in what he describes as a "Smart Yard" program.

Kopp, who in addition to her academic work at USU is also a board member and past president of the Utah Water Conservation Forum, said numerous Utah water districts have worked to encourage residents to upgrade their irrigation systems to smart controllers through rebate programs — an effort she supports.

"Rebate programs are a great way to get people thinking about what they can do to reduce their water usage," Kopp said. "We're not talking a huge amount of money, but if a cost offset is incentivizing people to do something to help save water, I think it's worth it."

Another incentive, according to Orbit executives, is how the phone-based B-Hyve app improves users' engagement with, and interest in, how their home irrigation systems are functioning. Eyring said the company closely monitors customer feedback and not only uses the information to make tweaks and upgrades to their products, but learns what is working well for users.

"One of the really interesting things that we’ve observed from customers that are using the B-Hyve system is the level of emotional engagement with their yard increases dramatically," Eyring said. "The old system is, turn it on in the spring and turn it off in the fall. With B-Hyve there is regular and very personal interaction with the system. It really makes them smart waterers."

Palmer's experience with maintaining his ¼-acre lot in Riverton using the B-Hyve-controlled irrigation system seems to support that assessment.

"I'm on the app all the time and I love it," Palmer said. "I've played around with the different zones in my yard and have been able to really customize my cycles to make it work perfectly for my yard."

To learn more about water conservation strategies and see a list of rebate programs that may be available in your area, visit https://conservewater.utah.gov/