Sprinklers save you the effort of hand watering, and because they're automated, everything gets watered whether or not you're home. On the other hand, they are inherently wasteful -- they spray water into the air, and much of it evaporates before it can provide any benefit to your lawn or garden. Moreover, they often come on when water isn't needed. Saving water is important in any community -- especially a drought-prone one -- and contemporary sprinklers and controllers can help you do that.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's WaterSense program promotes systems and devices that conform to its water-use standards. Among these devices are WaterSense controllers, which monitor local weather and landscape conditions and turn on the water only when it's needed. These smart controllers factor in historical weather data for the area and may also connect to local weather stations via the Internet. You can also use them in conjunction with a moisture sensor that you install in the ground or a dedicated weather station. The EPA estimates that the average household can save more than 8,000 gallons of water a year by switching from a conventional clock timer to a WaterSense controller.
Water-Saving Sprinkler Heads
In 2014, the EPA issued a Notice of Intent to develop water-saving sprinklers, but as of May 2015, these were not yet on the market. Until they are, you should at least consider replacing your fixed spray heads with rotor sprinklers, which deliver water in a steady stream with less misting. These screw onto the same fittings as the sprayers -- simply unscrew a sprayer and replace it with a rotary nozzle. Because rotary sprinklers have a larger coverage than static sprayers, you'll need fewer of them, and you may have to redesign your system to accommodate them.
Drip irrigation is more efficient than watering, but traditional drip irrigation works best for watering individual plants; emitters drip water onto the ground, sending it straight to the roots. A system that includes only drip emitters isn't suitable for a lawn or garden ground cover. To address this shortcoming, connect micro-sprinklers to your drip line. These tiny sprinklers operate at pressures between 15 and 30 pounds per square inch -- typically lower than conventional sprinklers -- and can deliver from 5 to 70 gallons per hour. Because of the flexibility of drip technology, micro-sprinklers can be strategically located to water individual plants as well as large garden areas, and while they sacrifice some water to evaporation, it is much less than that lost by conventional sprinklers.
Pressure-Compensating Spray Stakes
As an alternative to a micro-sprinkler for part of your lawn or garden, you can opt for a pressure-compensating spray stake -- another drip system spray component. The nozzle is mounted on the top of a plastic stake, and it angles down to minimize the amount of water lost to evaporation. The sprinkler has a pressure-compensating check valve that maintains a constant flow rate and reduces misting at high pressures. Stakes come with a single- or double-spray pattern that can be focused on individual plants as well as over a wider area.