Sub­sur­face ir­ri­ga­tion at the root of grass test­ing


We’ve all seen wa­ter from sprin­klers land on side­walks or get whisked away by the wind.

As much as 50 per­cent of the wa­ter used out­doors is wasted from in­ef­fi­cient wa­ter­ing meth­ods and sys­tems, ac­cord­ing to U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency.

Re­searchers in the New Mex­ico State Univer­sity Col­lege of Agri­cul­tural, Con­sumer and En­vi­ron­men­tal Sci­ences are de­ter­min­ing meth­ods to im­prove ir­ri­ga­tion ef­fi­ciency. And sub­sur­face ir­ri­ga­tion may be the so­lu­tion to wasted wa­ter and high wa­ter costs.

NMSU Ex­ten­sion Tur­f­grass Spe­cial­ist Bernd Lein­auer said sub­sur­face drip ir­ri­ga­tion, in par­tic­u­lar, is the new­est method in tur­f­grass ef­fi­ciency.

“Although sub­sur­face drip ir­ri­ga­tion has been used in agri­cul­ture for decades, it’s just mak­ing its way into the tur­f­grass in­dus­try,” Lein­auer said. “And it’s the only sys­tem that lim­its ir­ri­ga­tion to ex­actly the area that needs to be ir­ri­gated.”

Lein­auer has been the lead on two re­cent projects that will fur­ther test these re­search find­ings.

Last sum­mer, Lein­auer and his re­search team led a project to in­stall a sub­sur­face drip ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem in sev­eral tee boxes at The Club at Las Cam­panas in Santa Fe. The project is a col­lab­o­ra­tion among NMSU, Las Cam­panas, the United States Golf As­so­ci­a­tion, and ir­ri­ga­tion man­u­fac­tur­ers Toro and Rain Bird. USGA awarded NMSU a grant to as­sist with the re­search at the golf course.

At the be­gin­ning of this month, it was an­nounced that Lein­auer and his team are con­duct­ing a study at the city of Al­bu­querque’s Par­adise Mead­ows Park. While half of the park will use a tra­di­tional pop-up sprin­kler wa­ter­ing sys­tem, NMSU will over­see the other half of the park, on which a sub­sur­face drip ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem has been in­stalled.

“This project is in­ter­est­ing from the per­spec­tive that we were able to scale up our re­search find­ings,” Lein­auer said. “We’re able to take our re­search find­ings and im­ple­ment them in a park that is sig­nif­i­cantly larger than test plots or the tra­di­tional res­i­den­tial turf ar­eas. For the fund­ing agen­cies that have sup­ported our re­search in wa­ter con­ser­va­tion, it is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant to doc­u­ment that technology not only works in a re­search set­ting, but can be suc­cess­fully scaled up to re­al­world sit­u­a­tions.”

In the next three to five years, NMSU re­searchers and city of Al­bu­querque of­fi­cials should find out if the sub­sur­face drip ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem helped con­serve wa­ter.

In ad­di­tion to ir­ri­ga­tion ef­fi­ciency, NMSU re­search also fo­cuses on salt and drought tol­er­ance. Lein­auer said there’s been a shift to new types of waters with higher salin­ity lev­els, such as saline ground wa­ter, treated ef­flu­ent or re­cy­cled wa­ter.

“In the fu­ture, hav­ing grasses avail­able that can tol­er­ate higher salt con­cen­tra­tions in the wa­ter and in the soil will be­come para­mount to keep­ing green grass in ur­ban set­tings,” Lein­auer said. “There­fore, we need to screen for salt tol­er­ance in ad­di­tion to screen­ing for drought tol­er­ance in new grasses.”

Lein­auer’s work doesn’t end with re­search. An im­por­tant fac­tor is outreach and ed­u­ca­tion. What good are the re­search find­ings if pro­fes­sional tur­f­grass man­agers don’t know about them?

In Oc­to­ber, Lein­auer and fel­low re­searchers ed­u­cated home­own­ers, mas­ter gar­den­ers, land­scape man­agers and tur­f­grass pro­fes­sion­als at the South­west Tur­f­grass As­so­ci­a­tion Recre­ational Land­scape Con­fer­ence and Expo hosted by NMSU. The con­fer­ence in­cluded a field trip to the NMSU Tur­f­grass Salin­ity Re­search Cen­ter.

“With me be­ing a board mem­ber of the South­west Tur­f­grass As­so­ci­a­tion, I am closely con­nected with the in­dus­try,” Lein­auer said. “I think such outreach ac­tiv­i­ties rep­re­sent some of the core work of an ex­ten­sion spe­cial­ist. We need to work with the prac­ti­tion­ers and the in­dus­try, so we al­ways have a close ear on what the prob­lems and the trends are out­side the univer­sity. We can work closely with each other and de­sign projects to­gether. We can hope­fully ad­vance sci­ence through real-world ap­pli­ca­tions.”


New Mex­ico State Univer­sity Ex­ten­sion Tur­f­grass Spe­cial­ist Bernd Lein­auer and his team are con­duct­ing an ir­ri­ga­tion ef­fi­ciency study at the city of Al­bu­querque’s Par­adise Mead­ows Park. While half of the park will use a tra­di­tional sprin­kler-type wa­ter­ing sys­tem, right, NMSU will over­see the other half of the park, left, on which a sub­sur­face drip ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem has been in­stalled.

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