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Beginners Guide: Flow Sensors


As the cost of water continues to rapidly accelerate there is lots of motivation to monitor and manage your irrigation. While some irrigation controllers can overwhelm users with programming options, a flow sensor is a simple addition to almost any controller. Flow sensors are easy to install, and any irrigation contractor can assist in the installation.

Basics of an Irrigation Flow Sensor

The method behind a flow sensors calculation is actually rather simple. Think of a water wheel on a river that spins at a rate consistent to that of the bypassing water. This consistency in spin rate creates a reference point for how much and how fast water is passing by the water wheel. The same is true with a flow sensor; a small paddle wheel sits at the bottom of the flow sensor and comes in contact with just enough water to take readings. Each paddle wheel spoke on the flow sensor has a magnet, and when this magnet passes the flow sensor body, an interval is recorded.

Saddles, or the PVC receiving unit that introduces the sensor to the system, are typically PVC tees that make for a secure mounting apparatus and hold the sensor in place under the pressures of an irrigation system.

Some flow sensors are more complex and use light pulses to monitor flow at a more precise rate.

Benefits of an Irrigation Flow Sensor

Similar to a water meter, flow sensors let us know exactly how much water is flowing into our system. To maximize accuracy flow sensors are installed at the very beginning of an irrigation system ensuring the controller responsible for the sensor knows precisely how much water is flowing. With this flow data, water managers make informed decisions on how much water we are using and more importantly how much water we could be saving.

The next tier of flow sensor excitement involves reporting. When it comes time for a contractor or water customer to assess a properties water usage a smart controller is going to look to a flow sensor to provide the variables needed to make such an assessment. Reports provide information like total usage by gallon, by day, by month, total run times, weather data and alarm issues.

In landscape irrigation, we’ve become comfortable with irrigation running throughout the night while we sleep. On larger scale operations, large amounts of water can be lost in a short amount of time if a break is not identified before the next irrigation cycle. Flow sensors will notice this excessive leakage and stop the controller from continuing to run. This not only saves vital water but ensures there is no substantial erosion or hard scrape damage because of a break that went overlooked.

For growers moving large amounts of water in an indoor situation, there is still a lot of apprehensions to trust an irrigation controller to cycle while everyone is away from the project. ETwater and GreenIQ controllers, for instance, will send an alert immediately to a water manager to make sure they are aware of the break and attention is delegated accurately.

Depending on which controller you are using, the controller will either shut a system down at a master valve level or station valve level. Most smart controllers are so intuitive now that they'll even run a station a couple times to make sure there is indeed a discrepancy in flow or the controller will just skip the station to finish the cycle. To review; controller sends alarm noting break, controller moves on with cycle. What a great tool!

Peace of mind is a driving force behind most irrigation system decisions, and a flow sensor is no exception. If you have any questions regarding flow sensors, please hit me up on Twitter @MDSavesWater or DM us on Instagram @jainsusa.

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Michael Derewenko

Hailing from Central Florida Michael Derewenko has been in the irrigation industry since age 15. Beginning his career working for his father’s large commercial landscape company Michael quickly learned the importance of irrigating landscapes efficiently and effectively. With a strong background in pumps, two-wire systems and irrigation design, there is not much in irrigation that Michael hasn’t encountered. Now operating in Southern California as a Territory Sales Manager with Jain Irrigation, Michael is applying his vast knowledge of conservation-based products and experience in product development to a region that is in dire need of water resource management.

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