Nov 12 2018Share

Free Program: Technology Helps Gilbert Commercial Properties Save Water, Money

By Warren Tenney

Using the right amount of water to keep a landscape thriving is more important than ever with the ongoing drought and the rising cost of water. For nearly a decade, the Town of Gilbert has been providing its commercial water customers with the expertise they need to create and operate efficient irrigation systems. Last year, Gilbert took another big step by introducing the Water Efficient Technology Incentive. The new program offers property managers free technology and most often that means smart irrigation controllers. The program is designed to help participants close the gap between their current monthly water use and the actual amount of water their landscapes need to thrive. 

The program is for any commercial water user, such as Homeowners Associations, shopping centers, schools, churches and apartment complexes. Not every property is a good fit for a smart controller. For example, pairing a smart controller with an aging and inefficient irrigation system will not achieve much savings. First, an irrigation expert will determine the efficiency of the existing irrigation system and, if needed, offer the property manager ways to upgrade the system, such as using pressure compensating drip emitters and properly spacing sprinklers. 

Gilbert also provides commercial properties with free water budgets to help property managers reach maximum water efficiency. To develop a water budget a town irrigation expert calculates the acres of turf and area of desert adapted plants in a landscape and, based on actual weather, determines the volume of water needed to most efficiently water that particular landscape to keep it healthy. 

Once the irrigation system is working well and there is a potential for improving efficiency, Gilbert will provide the commercial property with new technology to reduce water use and save money. Sometimes that means high efficiency sprinkler nozzles, but most often it means a smart irrigation controller – at no cost to the property owner.  That is a savings that can range from $400 to $4,000 depending on the size of the site. 

Smart controllers automatically adjust the watering based on weather data. This technology has been used to irrigate city parks, golf courses and farms for decades. Now this technology is being perfected for back yards and businesses.

Some of these controllers adjust themselves according to historical weather patterns and an onsite temperature sensor that’s part of the control box. Many of them also come with rain gauges attached or ones that you can add. Other types of smart controllers use a manufacturer’s cell phone modem to attain current weather conditions. These controllers are more precise but require a monthly subscription fee. The latest smart controllers use wi-fi connections. They allow a property manager to program and adjust the controller from an app on a cell phone and connect the programmer to the closest weather station for daily meteorological conditions.

While a smart controller sounds like an easy road to efficiency, the secret to making it work is the initial set up. It can be confusing, requiring user input on such things as the kind of plants being watered, type of soil (clay loam in central Valley, sandy loam in higher, northern parts of the Valley), sun exposure, sprinklers or drip, and slope. That’s why Gilbert’s program includes an expert to set up each smart controller or to train an onsite landscape manager to program the controller. 

Gilbert’s Water Efficient Technology Incentive program has provided 22 smart irrigation controllers to 21 commercial properties. Some of these properties already were close to meeting efficient landscape watering, while many others have seen much bigger savings.  One HOA community saved more than 1 million gallons of water over a 12-month period after the smart controller was installed as compared to the previous 12-month period without a smart controller. Gilbert has many ways to help commercial properties and businesses save water and money. Find out more here. Visit the AMWUA conservation pages to find out what your city is doing to help their residents and businesses save water and money.

Photo: Kent Akbay

For 49 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit

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