'Smart' sprinklers would tailor irrigation with reclaimed water

An interdisciplinary team of Colorado School of Mines researchers has been awarded National Science Foundation funding to develop a prototype of a "smart" irrigation system that can consider sensor data, user-defined thresholds and weather forecasts to determine when and where to water.

Junko Munakata Marr, professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Qi Han, associate professor of computer science, will receive $200,000 for the project, which is being funded through NSF's Division of Industrial Innovation & Partnerships.

Unlike existing "smart" irrigation control systems that have proved water efficient but limited in adoption, the unique system proposed by Munakata Marr and Han will combine wireless water and soil quality sensors into an advanced network capable of controlling several critical agronomic variables, such as soil moisture and salinity, while welcoming but limiting the need for human inputs.

The system will be able to operate autonomously, but if, for example, users notice that one area of grass appears to be under stress, they can also feed that information into the system, Munakata Marr said. 

Researchers also plan to build the system to use reclaimed water, an additional challenge that requires the consideration of many factors, including irrigation water quality, soil conditions, plant tolerance thresholds and weather forecasts. Munakata Marr and her team will oversee the project as a whole and contribute to the water quality sensing piece of the puzzle while Han manages the wireless sensor network and collaborates with researchers at Toro, the project's industry partner, on the control algorithm.

"From an economic perspective, implementation of even a single soil moisture sensor in home lawns can significantly reduce water consumption and produce a return on investment within a few months. Cities stand to save millions of dollars by implementing efficient irrigation technology to reduce water use," Munakata Marr said. "The proposed adaptive system for irrigation with reclaimed water thus represents a tremendous potential market for more efficient water use."

Emilie Rusch, Public Information Specialist, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3361 | erusch@mines.edu
Mark Ramirez, Managing Editor, Communications and Marketing | 303-273-3088 | ramirez@mines.edu

About Mines
Colorado School of Mines is a public research university focused on science and engineering, where students and faculty together address the great challenges society faces today - particularly those related to the Earth, energy and the environment.