Companies reap rewards on irrigation investments

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Mike’s Express Carwash uses a lot of water. There’s just no getting around it. So when automated systems engineer Ryan Binkley looked for ways to conserve resources, he focused on the company’s irrigation systems.

Binkley found that keeping the grass green meant making the company more green.

Fishers-based Mike’s has installed so-called “smart” irrigation systems at 36 of its locations, employing technology designed to reduce water use by monitoring weather conditions, precipitation and evaporation. The move has saved the company more than $67,000 a year.

Now Indianapolis Water officials are trying to encourage other businesses—and homeowners—to follow suit. The city water provider has partnered with Fishers-based Automatic Irrigation Supply Co. to offer discounts on rain and moisture sensors that could help reduce water usage during peak summer months.

“The simple point is, it’s cheaper for me to focus on water conservation than it is to go to the ratepayers and ask for an extra $120 [million] or $125 million to build a new water treatment plant to respond to the summer irrigation demand,” said Matt Klein, executive director of Indianapolis Water, which is managed by the Indianapolis Department of Waterworks.

In October, the department proposed a capital projects plan that would raise water rates for the average residential customer 35 percent. And that’s on top of a 12-percent increase the regulators approved earlier this year.

Indianapolis Water also promotes water conservation through community outreach programs and advertisements, Klein said, and it has worked with legislators to pass water conservation ordinances in Zionsville, Noblesville and Fishers.

Mike’s Carwash installed the Hunter brand evapotranspiration system at its Lawrence store in May 2007. Binkley studied the water usage over the course of the year and noticed the store went from using more than 3,000 gallons of water for irrigation to less than 1,000. Irrigation costs plummeted from $11 a day to just $3.

So Mike’s installed the systems at additional locations starting in May 2008. Stores spend about $1,200 on the technology, but are able to save at least that much in water costs in the first three months. 

“If you have the money, it’s worth the cost,” Binkley said. “We don’t see any loss in quality and when you look at the savings, the system speaks for itself.”

Wayne Wheeler, operations manager for Automatic Irrigation Supply, said 80 percent to 90 percent of home and business owners over-water their landscape areas. Wheeler said not only can an investment in irrigation technology add extra savings, but it’s the key to a healthy lawn, too.

In terms of environmental care, irrigating judiciously is what some consider a protection of natural resources.

“Lawn watering is an area where we could cut back as it’s a luxury use, anyway,” said Rea Schnapp, water policy director for the Hoosier Environmental Council. “So, if we can stop from using excessive irrigation, it would certainly help conservation efforts.”

Jeffery McClain, a consultant engineer in facilities and grounds management at Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co., said his company was able to reduce its water use 30 percent to 35 percent by using its Calsense water management irrigation system. From May to August, Lilly used 8 million fewer gallons of water than in the same period during past years.

“We want to maintain our investment in our landscape,” McClain said. “We recognize that proper irrigation is a big part of that. Now, we don’t have areas drowning in water or not getting enough.”•

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