Small details that add up to big conservation

When they hear the term “water conservation,” many people will usually think of one of two things: low-flow toilets and water-saving showerheads. It’s safe to say that neither one of those really elicits enthusiasm.

Field managers who have been charged with trying to control water usage, however, may find it’s easier than they think to rein in excess water use. And it’s likely that spectators at games, and possibly the athletes as well, may not even be aware that water-conservation measures are in effect.

Leave it on the field

Effective on-field water management starts, well, on the field; and that’s where it should stay. If fields are watered with an irrigation system, the field manager’s first duty should be to ascertain that all water emanating from that system stays on the field. In other words, overspray should not be hitting any areas outside the perimeter of the field.

Table 1: Drought and Heat Tolerance and Water Use Rates of Cool-Season Sports Field Grasses

Simply put, water that lands on bleachers, the running track, the dugout roof or any other structure outside the field lines is wasted water. However, in many cases maintenance personnel may not be aware of water overuse, since watering often takes place when no one is around to see it.

In order to test your water efficiency, set aside some time during daylight hours to perform a test run of the irrigation system. Open the system, and then walk around and check for overspray outside of the field. Choose a day when there is little or no wind, so as not to skew the results. In general, it’s easier to make diagrams showing which sprinklers are at fault for overspray. Also check to ensure that water is spraying from all sprinklers and not simply flowing out, which may be the case if one malfunctions. If the sprinkler heads seem to be in good working order but you’re still finding overspray issues, contact the field builder for recommendations on how to remedy the problem.

When possible, use native plants, particularly those that are drought-resistant.
Photo courtesy of Stantec Sport, Boston, Mass.

Another way to reduce water use is to utilize what Mother Nature has to offer. Many irrigation systems are automatically set to turn on and off at various times, generally at night or on days when fields are not scheduled for use. Many irrigation systems now have sensors that temporarily deactivate the system in response to a specified amount of rainfall. When the sensors dry out, they reset the system.

A test run with a premarked collection device can reveal irrigation inefficiencies.
Photo courtesy of Santa Barbara, Calif., Public Works Dept.

Since rain will certainly fall on areas outside the perimeter of the field, it’s essential to have drainage mechanisms in place. If you’re not sure what systems are present at your facility, and there’s no documentation, ask your field builder for a consult. Of course, just having drainage systems isn’t enough. Preventive maintenance can help keep water moving efficiently, so keep an eye out for standing water, which can indicate potential problem areas.

Conscientious water use generally starts in the design phase of any project; however, even a completed field facility with a limited budget can implement small changes to become more eco-friendly. For example, many sports field facilities include decorative landscaped areas. When possible, use native plants, particularly those that are drought-resistant. It will save on watering costs and reduce maintenance.

Those in the market to upgrade or make significant changes to their irrigation system should thoroughly research the options. The overall price of an irrigation system depends on the size of the facility, the type and number of sprinkler heads, head layout, water pressure (GPM), as well as the source and quality of the water. If a booster pump is necessary to provide sufficient line pressure for the irrigation system, it will add significantly to the cost. A certified irrigation designer can help answer any questions you have regarding the best features to look for and the best design to seek out.

Water conservation doesn’t have to be high-tech. It can be as simple as small common sense measures that, over time, can result in a big difference in the water bill.

Since rain will certainly fall on areas outside the perimeter of the field, it’s essential to have drainage mechanisms in place.
Photo courtesy of the Rettler Corp., Stevens Point, Wis.

Mary Helen Sprecher is a technical writer with The American Sports Builders Association (ASBA), a nonprofit association helping designers, builders, owners, operators and users understand quality sports facility construction. “Sports Fields: A Construction and Maintenance Manual,” which discusses efficient use of water at both natural grass and synthetic turf facilities, among other topics, is offered by the American Sports Builders Association. For information, visit