Efficient irrigation is as important as ever. With increased regulations — and increased scrutiny — regarding water use, the Irrigation Association (IA) is urging everyone to “Get Smart” about irrigation. IA President Stephen Smith recently spoke with Landscape and Irrigation about irrigation industry trends, challenges and the outlook for 2009.
L&I: What would you like irrigation industry professionals (turf and landscape) to know about the Irrigation Association as we head into 2009?
Smith: The Irrigation Association made a commitment and an investment in 2008 to increase our visibility in the water policy debate — in other words federal and state government affairs. IA’s strategic plan lays the groundwork to achieve our mission of promoting efficient irrigation.
We have a new logo and brand identity, which is part of our strategy of being the recognized authority on irrigation. We have added staff with depth and breadth expertise in federal affairs. Our government affairs committee has set up quarterly conference calls for all interested members to participate, and we will be hosting a legislative conference in early May to meet with elected officials and policy makers.
L&I: What do you feel will be the biggest issue for landscape irrigation professionals in 2009? How should they address it?
Smith: Our industry must fight misperceptions by those who see irrigation as part of the problem, not the solution. Our challenge is to make sure that those outside our industry understand the value irrigation provides — namely aesthetics in landscapes and food production in agriculture.
Influencing policy to increase the demand for efficient irrigation is one of the four priority areas under IA’s strategic plan. John Farner, IA’s federal affairs director, will be heading up the new IrrigationPAC. IrrigationPAC is a non-partisan, voluntary, political action committee created to help IA achieve its legislative objectives and increase the industry’s visibility with elected officials and political candidates at the federal level.
The best way to fight misconceptions about irrigation is to show how much water and money can be saved by using efficient irrigation products, using professional consultants and designers, and hiring certified contractors for the installation and updating of systems.
L&I: What do you feel are the most significant trends of the past year in the landscape irrigation industry, and will those trends continue in 2009?
Smith: The trend towards increased conservation measures and doing more with less is a significant trend in our industry. I think in 2009 we will see more regulations and water restrictions from cities and water purveyors to try and conserve water. Some of these restrictions will be punitive in basis. We need to influence water conservation efforts to have a basis in science and move toward using the great technologies that we have available. In relation to that, irrigation equipment manufacturers will continue in the trend towards more efficient irrigation products and controllers. Specifically, implementation of climate-based controllers is a very important trend.
L&I: What impact will President Obama and the new administration have on the industry?
Smith: We look forward to working with the new administration in providing technical assistance and comment on potential regulations. Programs like WaterSense, NRCS’s EQIP, AWEP, and other water-focused programs will have an effect on the irrigation industry, and we will promote the values of irrigated landscape, irrigated agriculture and the broad benefits of efficient irrigation.
L&I: What areas of advancement in the industry are you most pleased with, and which areas do you think need to improve?
Smith: As an association, IA has been very proud of the work that’s been accomplished in our education and certification programs. We are constantly working to update our certification exams and update our course materials. In addition, we will increase the number of courses available online at IA’s Web site, www.irrigation.org.
Part of the Irrigation Show is the New Product Contest, and it has been a fantastic tool for the promotion and celebration of innovations in the irrigation industry. We have four categories, agriculture, landscape/turf, golf, and specialty products. The winners from each year are highlighted on our Web site, and we encourage companies to submit their new products for the 2009 Irrigation Show in San Antonio.
L&I: What is your boldest prediction for 2009?
Smith: I think in 2009 we will see a movement toward using alternate (non-potable) water for landscape irrigation projects. Delaware’s state legislature is considering expanding a recycled water program that used 2.5 billion gallons of recycled water for irrigation in 2008. The Agricultural Research Service has also done testing in Arizona with recycled water since 2006. The results of its study have been very encouraging. If we can make recycled water a respected water resource for irrigation purposes, it will help ease some of the strain on the scarce water resources in certain parts of the country without losing the benefits of irrigated landscapes.
In addition to being President of the Irrigation Association, Stephen Smith is CEO or Aqua Engineering, Inc., Fort Collins, Colo.
Editor’s note: For part one of Industry Outlook 2009, click here.