How to: Find a pressure Problem in your Irrigation System

Irrigation systems are more than just a convenience tool. For some professionals, installing and maintaining these systems is their livelihood — not to mention the livelihood of plants. Without water, most plants and turfgrasses will not survive. An irrigation system is the one tool that most individuals never see. There are hundreds of feet of pipe and wire underground that can make your property look beautiful and well manicured if they are working correctly. However, several problems can exist if your system is not maintained correctly. You might have pressure problems, stations that don't work or sprinkler heads that do not have adequate coverage.


When dealing with pressure problems, it helps to narrow down the problem areas. Hopefully, you will have a map of your system to help your efforts. If not, hire a line locator and create a map using a GPS unit. The locator will work only if the system is wired. To get started, check your main valve and backflow preventer, making sure both are completely open. If the system is not on, you should not be able to hear water moving through the pipes. The sound of water moving through indicates a leak somewhere. To pinpoint the leak, start with the main line. If you have a leak, it will be noticeable because the ground will be soft and wet in this location. Next, check each of your laterals with the valve activated. If you have a leak, you should see it when that zone is on.


When you are dealing with valves or zones that do not work, start by making sure your controller is working correctly. Operate stations manually to see if they work and watch to see if the system starts at the correct time. If the controller is working properly, then go to your valve boxes and check each wire connection, making sure it is tight and dry. Reset where needed. If the problem persists, you may have nicked a wire when fixing a repair. You will need to go back to the areas that have you have repaired, usually along the main lines, and recheck the wires.


Your pressure problem may not actually be a pressure problem. Dry areas may be the result of a clogged nozzle or broken head or simply a head that is not rotating correctly. Start by turning on each zone. Check to make sure each head is working and rotating correctly. Mowers and carts have been known to break or alter irrigation heads. Adjust where needed.

Doug Melchior is a golf course superintendent at Overland Park Golf Club (Overland Park, Kan.).

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