IBM analytics saves water at Arizona golf community

Using smart irrigation sensors and cloud-based operational software, Desert Mountain expects to reduce water consumption and related energy costs by at least 10 percent.

Desert Mountain, a 4,500-person residential community in Scottsdale, Arizona, is using a combination of intelligent water sensors and IBM analytics software to reduce water and energy consumption related to watering its six championship golf courses by 5 percent to 20 percent.

In simple terms, the solution allows the organization to monitor conditions such as soil moisture, weather forecasts, fertilizer applications, and utility pricing information.

This allows Desert Mountain — which buys about 1 billion gallons of water per year (a large portion of that reclaimed from the municipal water department) — to proactively reduce water purchases, adjust watering schedules, or reallocate supplies among the 13 different lakes across the property's 8,000 acres, said Shawn Emerson, director of agronomy at Desert Mountain.

"I can decide how much power or water I want to pump at certain times," he said.

Desert Mountain uses a combination of the IBM Intelligent Operation Center software for Smarter Cities and IBM Business Partner UgMO Technologies' Wireless Soil Moisture Sensor Solution to gain these insights. (It owns 176 sensors; about 120 are currently in operation, the other 50 are being redeployed from one piece of the property to another in order to drive more efficiency.)

"A well-designed, analytics-driven irrigation system can significantly reduce water waste by collecting and analyzing data about water transmission — how water flows, where it follows, how it's used, how it's lost, and where it's vulnerable to future losses," said Michael Sullivan, director of the IBM Smarter Water program, when the installation was first announced.

Because the solution is cloud-based, approximately 12 people on the community's 650-employee staff list can monitor various data points when necessary, although it's really the focus for two of them. The information is updated every 10 minutes or so.

"It's like having seven computer screens at your fingertips," Emerson said. (A screenshot of the dashboard is below.)

Desert Mountain Screenshot
Image: Screenshot by Heather Clancy/ZDNet

The overall goal when the solution was first installed approximately 18 months ago was to reduce water consumption by about 10 percent, while generating about 10 percent in energy savings related to water activities.

Traditionally, the annual budget related to water for Desert Mountain has been about $1.6 million (including the power costs). So, the breakeven point is about $75,000, Emerson estimated, and the installation is "ahead of the curve" when it comes to the return on its investment.

The video below has more details on the installation, back when the deal was announced.


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