This past summer was the driest summer on record at Hammons Field, Springfield, Mo., home of the Springfield Cardinals, the AA minor league team affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals. Head Groundskeeper Brock Phipps says July 2012 marked the highest average temperature on record in the area, with the mercury pushing up to a consistently blistering 99.7 degrees. The weather was so severe that Phipps attended three meetings with city officials to discuss and monitor the availability of irrigation water for the field.

Brock Phipps (far right), head groundskeeper at Hammons Field, his assistant, Derek Edwards (second from right), and other crew members water the infield.

“We were very close to water restrictions,” Phipps says. Water conservation on the sand-based field became very important.

All over the country, sports field managers like Phipps are looking for tools to better manage and conserve water supplies. For Phipps, a new irrigation control system from Baseline, Inc., installed the previous autumn, was key to his water-conservation efforts. Two Baseline soil sensors were installed in the outfield. The sensors can read both soil moisture and temperature.

“We found that if the moisture of the sand profile would drop to 15 percent or less the turf would really begin to suffer. The turf seemed to perform best at around 19 to 20 percent moisture content. With sensors 4 inches [deep] in the soil profile we had several readings at 95 degrees. The combination of both of these made it very tough on the plant, even on bermuda,” Phipps explains. He plans to add two soil moisture sensors in the infield to help him better monitor conditions there.

The system allows him to monitor his irrigation system anytime from anywhere.

After hours, he says, “[I can] sit at home and see if anything is breaking down or if there’s water line damage. I can read the flow meter and see if it’s not correct. I can turn water off from home or start a cool-down.” He adds that it also helps him to be more efficient with his time and his limited irrigation resources.

Chris Wright, regional sales manager for Baseline, Inc., says that in addition to the remote access, another helpful component of the company’s irrigation control system is the coach’s button.

“When the coach shows up for practices and he wants to wet down the infield, he pushes a button attached to the two-wire and wets down the infield to get the infield surface playable,” Wright explains. “We can also use the button as a pause button, so if a team shows up and a field is irrigating, it will pause irrigation for a specified period of time and will resume irrigating where it left off.”

The Rain Bird 5000 PRS rotor regulates water pressure to provide optimum water pressure in an irrigation system.

Don Spier

This type of irrigation-on-demand function allows the coach access to the irrigation system in a limited capacity, but doesn’t allow anyone but the sports turf manager (or other authorized staff) overall access to the system, keeping control in the hands of the professionals.

“It keeps the coaching staff out of the valve boxes and manually turning things off that would manifest later in dry areas,” Wright says.

Monitoring of the irrigation system is vital to water conservation, but the design and installation of quality sprinkler heads and equipment are also important.

Chris Dimmick, senior area specifications manager for Rain Bird Corp., says, “We can take the best products in the world, but if they’re not installed properly, or the system is not designed properly [for the site], it will lead to problems and lead to a facility’s manager being frustrated because it’s not doing what it’s supposed to do. Make sure you’ve got a good plan to start with and go from there.” He adds, “First recommendation, start with a good design. There has to be a good design for any given area that is going to be irrigated for soccer, baseball, football. If there isn’t a good design done by a qualified individual, that system has the potential not to deliver the desired results.”

The Irrigation Association (IA) conducts educational training and runs an irrigation certification program. The IA also maintains a list online of certified irrigation installers and designers. To find a certified irrigation professional near you, visit:

Dimmick recommends using a smart controller, as opposed to a system on a timer, to maximize water efficiency.

“For example, if you’re using a simple on/off gauge and one day it rains hard, the system turns off. But the next day it happens to be sunny and dry and the rain in the gauge evaporates, if the controller is programmed to run that day, it will turn on and water even though the day before it rained hard. One day later does your system need to run again? Most of the time, [the answer is] no. That’s where the next level of controller, ET-based watering, comes in for sports turf,” Dimmick explains.

Hammons Field is home to the Springfield Cardinals, the AA affiliate team of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Controllers that measure evapotranspiration (ET), Dimmick notes, “take into consideration additional factors: temperature, humidity, solar radiation and wind.” ET controllers, he says, measure “inches of water lost per day to those weather conditions,” giving a more accurate measurement of the amount of water the turf needs to be sufficiently irrigated.

Dimmick also recommends installing good equipment with high-efficiency nozzles and pressure-regulating devises that adjust for fluctuations in water pressure.

Once water is applied properly, surfactants can help to keep it in the rootzone, where it’s needed. Recent advances in the understanding of soil science have led to major innovations in surfactant chemistry.

No two playing surfaces are exactly the same, and turf managers face unique challenges that depend largely on climate, soil structure, and the threat of water use restrictions. Aquatrols offers Dispatch Penetrant, which increases infiltration rates, and Aqueduct, a curative surfactant that is specially formulated to provide rapid recovery to damaged turf areas.

Jack Schmidgall

“Surfactants improve infiltration by reducing the surface tension of water,” says Don Spier, vice president of the turf and ornamental group at Precision Laboratories.

“Cascade Plus is engineered to attach to the organic matter in the soil … it becomes a water receptor or holder. When the field gets water through irrigation or rainfall, it takes the water in and holds it in the rootzone,” he explains.

A three-year study conducted by Dr. Keith Karnock at the University of Georgia at Athens tested Cascade Plus for its ability to hold water in the soil. The study states: “Cascade Plus can decrease soil water repellency and increase irrigation efficiency. Results of this study demonstrate that untreated turfgrass requires 2 to 3 times as much irrigation water to reach a comparable VWC (volumetric water content) of Cascade Plus treated turfgrass.”

In layman’s terms, Spier says, “You could experience anywhere from 33 to 50 percent water savings using Cascade Plus. You could cut the amount of water from 33 to 50 percent and maintain the same volumetric water content.”

Jack Schmidgall, director of field operations for the Lowell Spinners, a minor league baseball team affiliated with the Boston Red Sox, uses Cascade Plus to help hold moisture at the rootzone of the field at LeLacheur Park in Lowell, Mass.

“We have to pay for water, and that’s part of the equation. I want to do what’s best for the field. Moisture management is a huge part of our overall maintenance program,” Schmidgall says. Since he started using Cascade Plus, he says, “I have seen changes in color, quality and turf density.”

Schmidgall notes a significant reduction in the amount of irrigation needed to keep his Kentucky bluegrass turf healthy. He monitors the field’s soil moisture content daily with a hand-held moisture sensor.

“Instead of running a 20 to 24-minute cycle on a frequency required, I’ve now been able to reduce it to 12 minutes, maybe jump it up to 16, based on what my moisture sensor is telling me. When you look at a season, it’s significant,” Schmidgall says.

He is vigilant about monitoring the efficiency of the irrigation system at LeLacheur Park. He feels it’s important to not only use effective products, but to also understand the efficiency of the irrigation system, the nozzle size, to monitor precipitation rates, create proper spacing of the heads, monitor pressure and volume, as well as walk the field to check for issues.

Stacie Zinn Roberts is the president of What’s Your Avocado?, a writing and marketing firm based in Mount Vernon, Wash.