University adds sprinklers to campus lawns

University adds sprinklers to campus lawns
Photo courtesy of Rain Bird.

Augustana is implementing a new irrigation system as part of campus renovations. The new sprinklers aim to improve the university’s green spaces and add consistency to water infrastructures.

With a combination of new irrigation systems, sprinklers and a mixture of new grass seeding and turf, Andrea Smith, director of project management and facility services, is trying to make the infrastructure update as sustainable as possible.

The new sprinklers will be installed in phases. Some will be installed this academic year, while others will be installed next year depending on which areas are under construction according to Augustana’s 2030 Vision plan.

The new sprinkler system will cost an estimated $90,000 for this year’s installation. Because of fluctuating supply chains due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this number could change when next year’s sprinklers are installed and will most likely be less expensive, according to Smith.

Augustana went with Rain Bird sprinklers because they were the most cost effective option. Some have already been installed around campus. These sprinklers can be adjusted for the amount of water they put out based on weather and budgeting. Rain Bird sprinklers can also be programmed to only irrigate during certain times of day with only certain amounts of water.

“[With Rain Bird] we can get different sized heads,” Smith said. “That’s the best choice for coverage and [managing] how much water it puts down at any one time.”

Eventually, Smith plans to use the water from the retention pond being installed with the 2030 plan to irrigate the grass around campus and mitigate water costs.

Along with implementing new sprinklers on campus, Smith said Augustana will also be adding new drought-resistant grass seeding called fescue turf, which needs up to 90% less water to live. While the new seeding will initially need to be watered more for the seeds to successfully start growing, once they’re mature they will need much less water than Augustana’s current lawns.

While David O’Hara, the director of sustainability, commented on his long term wish to have native grasses on campus, he expressed optimism about the sustainability of the new sprinkler system.

“Old sprinklers can spray water in an inefficient way,” O’Hara said. “Even though it can be more expensive to install new sprinklers, it can often reduce the amount of water we are using by being more precise about where the water is going, where it’s being sprayed and even the size of the droplets sprayed.”

According to O’Hara, letting lawns dry out and die can harm topsoil and the organisms that live in it, so it is important for Augustana to keep lawns healthy to avoid soil damage.

Ana McCabe, an environmental studies student, has mixed feelings about the new sprinkler systems.

“Overall, if the sprinkler system is more sustainable in the long term, I think that’s great,” McCabe said. “I think it needs to be cost effective, but it needs to be more sustainable.”

McCabe said she has noticed some water from the new sprinklers being sprayed on sidewalks and that the sprinklers needed better control to avoid wasting water and soaking students on their way to class.