Hydropoint: How The Internet Of Things Is Helping Battle Water Shortages

The ValleyCrest Landscape Companies performed the retrofit using an innovative irrigation system developed by HydroPoint Data Systems. Chris Spain, HydroPoint CEO and president, estimates that the company's smart irrigation controllers saved its customers roughly 20 billion gallons of water in the last year alone.

Before launching HydroPoint in 2002, Spain spent 20 years founding and selling emerging growth technology startups. Spain says he was looking for a way to combine his emerging interest in environmental sustainability with his expertise in technology when fate intervened. "I read an article stating that 60 percent of all urban water went to landscape irrigation and as much as 90 percent of this water was wasted," he says.

Spain had found his new calling. Astonished by the statistics, he delved into the science of irrigation systems, quickly learning that there wasn't much of it. Other than timers that turned irrigation controllers on and off at different times of the day, existing systems were rudimentary. Not only were veritable seas of water being wasted, frequent over-irrigation spilled fertilizer chemicals into watersheds, polluting the environment and prompting stiff regulatory fines.

Spain investigated further, this time turning to academic literature. He found a small company that owned a patent for measuring evapotranspiration, a term that refers to the amount of water used by a plant and evaporation in the soil surrounding it. Spain purchased the patent and applied his technological know-how to develop a smart irrigation control system, much like the increasingly ubiquitous smart machines embedded with sensors in factory environments.

HydroPoint's system incorporates on-site sensors for moisture and heat with other data such as the slope of the land, type of plant and soil, and the relative exposure to sunshine during a particular period. External real-time data on current weather conditions also is collected via the Internet and combined with the other data. These various data sets — there are 19 parameters per zone in all — pulse toward HydroPoint's cloud-based platform, which determines the optimum irrigation volume by square kilometer through a series of algorithms. "You end up with the perfect schedule for watering," says Spain.

The economics of the system immediately caught the eye of ValleyCrest, which could see the marketing benefits of an irrigation system that would save its municipal and large residential customers money while giving them environmental bragging rights.

Not that they lined up to invest in the smart controllers at first. "We're a collection of dozens of smaller landscape companies, and there was concern that the controllers might not live up to their promise," says Richard Restuccia, director of water management solutions at Calabas, Calif.-based ValleyCrest. "If they didn't work properly for a $1 million account, there was the risk of losing the business, despite the reputed two- to three-year return on the initial investment (for the system)."

SoValleyCrest is testing out the technology with a small percentage of its customers to gauge its performance.  “Most of our clients have wrung every penny out of energy savings and see water conservation as the next big thing,” he explains.

The ongoing drought in Southern California may sharpen this interest. Says Restuccia, “Just one acre of a golf course in parched Los Angeles could save as much as $18,000 a year on water costs by irrigating more efficiently.”

That should keep the greens from looking like sand traps.

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