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July 5, 2011

Supercomputer Feeds Smart Irrigation Systems

Nicole Hemsoth

Private and public sector water irrigation systems are getting a boost from high-test computing as they harness custom weather data to create smart watering systems that could save billions of gallons of water across the nation.

According to a recent article in Scientific American, a number of companies and municipalities have relied on irrigation and sprinkler systems that would turn on and off and particular times during the day without human involvement. However, during periods of heavy rain when such systems wouldn’t be needed, sending a maintenance person around to the locations where sprinkler or irrigation systems were would be a lengthy process and considered a waste of effort since they would need to be reset again.

The article points to one example in a Silicon Valley school district where, in 2009, “the district installed new smart controllers that automatically adjust daily watering to the weather.” They describe how “each box, fitted with a microprocessor and antenna, receives local real-time weather information by satellite from the WeatherTRAK climate center supercomputer run by Petaluma California-based HydroPoint Data Systems.” This data then regulates the watering and irrigation systems, sometimes instructing them to run once in 11 days versus daily.

The article goes on to point to how this real-time data is being used to regulate and control water output in a way that goes beyond mere timing and watering intervals:

“With most sprinkler systems, property owners set the traditional controller—basically a timer—to irrigate at specific intervals. Often, too much water is lost to evaporation during hot weather or to runoff during cool weather, which can also carry chemicals into the local watershed or ocean. Because outdoor irrigation can suck up 50 percent or more of urban water consumption, smart irrigation services have caught on in drought-prone western states like California, where water prices are relentlessly rising. (Occasional big floods don’t help the long-term problem.) HydroPoint now has more than 8,000 clients using 24,000 of its smart controllers, including Walmart, Coca-Cola, Hilton, Jack in the Box and the University of Arizona as well as the cities of Charleston, S.C., Houston and Santa Barbara.”

Full story at Scientific American