California State University, Long Beach
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New Weather Station Helps Monitor Campus Irrigation System

Weather Station
Photos by Victoria Sanchez

Have you ever seen a water sprinkler on in the middle of a driving rainstorm and wonder how in the world that could happen? Well, with the newly installed weather station called Evolution DX2 at CSULB, you should never see such an occurrence on campus.

“Hopefully, you didn’t see that even before we put in this weather station,” said Brian McKinnon, who serves as the manager of grounds and landscape services for Facilities Management and oversaw the installation of this project, “but you definitely shouldn’t see it now. The new weather station has a transmitter box that sits at the base and connects to the controller. It’s got a long antenna with a whirlybird at the end of it with rain cups and sensors on it. It monitors wind velocity and collects rain, so when it gets to a certain point, it tells all the clocks to stop watering.”

CSULB is 322 acres in size, so it’s a lofty chore to keep on top of the assorted watering needs, but McKinnon assures they are being met appropriately and will be improved by the new weather station, also known as a field controller. Located near the university track, the station itself is fairly noninvasive, just 24” x 24” at the base and standing some 15 feet high.

“We didn’t want to put it in an area where you have a lot of asphalt because the heat coming from that would throw off the clock-sensing capability and therefore water more,” said McKinnon. “That would certainly defeat the whole purpose of having a weather station. So, after quite a bit of looking, we think we found an ideal location.”

Most of the campus’ irrigation is done at night, with the system coming on around 10 p.m. and shutting down by 6 a.m., according to McKinnon.

Weather Equipment

“When we program all of our controllers into the system, it can calculate our highest usage controllers and then they can run concurrently,” he said. “For example, I can’t have all my athletic field sprinklers on at the same time because I wouldn’t have any water pressure and the heads wouldn’t function as they should. In order for an irrigation system to function properly, you need 50 percent overlap from head to head. That is optimum and prevents dry spots in between.”

Where a look skyward and a moistened index finger raised into the air once helped determine the weather forecast, those are now replaced by the much more accurate weather station, which provides comprehensive monitoring to maximize water savings throughout the campus. Along with the moisture sensor capability, the weather station also senses wind, heat and temperature. It then calculates the evapotranspiration the amount of water leaving the soil compared to the amount of water that should be in the soil to sustain plant life.

“Prior to the weather station, workers could either go into the field at each controller and turn it off on a programmable rain shutdown or go into the central system and just tell it how many days you want them off,” said McKinnon. “With the newer controllers and the weather station, it will do a percentage reduction in the runtime of each valve. With the data that is received from the environmental conditions outside, the clock can calculate the evapotranspiration rate needed to reduce the runtime of the stations by, for example, 10 percent, and it will automatically change all the runtimes by that amount. That is the beauty of this system.”

Weather System group

Facilities Management personnel assisting with the installation of the weather station are (l-r) Mike Lawler, irrigation specialist; Michelle Hermance, field operations coordinator; and Brian McKinnon, manager of grounds and landscape services.

McKinnon says the overhaul of the sprinkler systems has been gradual and will continue, noting equipment is still being used that has been in place since the campus' inception, which means from the 1950s.

“What we currently have is the Rain Master irrigation controllers and central system in place and that was purchased about eight years ago and it was a matter of changing out our old controllers, of which we had a huge mix from Rainbird, Moody, Toro,” said McKinnon, noting that there are 76 controllers throughout campus, running about 3,000 valves. “Nothing was actually standardized, so the university moved to standardizing the controllers so they are easier for the staff to work on and going with a system that would be a central irrigation system. This weather station is certainly a big step in getting everything standardized.”

CSULB realizes the importance of preserving our many resources with water being only one of many resources that Facilities Management oversees. Improvements in technology help the university better manage these assets so that it can contribute to conservation practices for future generations. It is through the foresight of employees to look for new technology's that improve the environment and the support of the administration helps achieve these goals.

With global warming being a more prioritized issue, institutions such as Cal State Long Beach understand the importance and necessity of bringing new technologies such as an ET-based central irrigation system into use.