WaterWise Irrigation

Man repairing sprinkler in front yard

Small fixes result in big savings!

Simple changes to your sprinkler system can save a lot of water and improve your landscape's health and appearance! Moving just one sprinkler head or changing a single nozzle could significantly reduce the amount of water you use and keep your landscape beautiful.

You can make many minor repairs and adjustments yourself, without help from a professional. Follow our tips below for repairing and adjusting your irrigation system.

Turn off unneeded sprinklers

As plantings become established or changed, some sprinklers may no longer be needed. Shutting them off is the quickest and easiest way to save water and money.

  • Shut off nozzles or install “blanks.” Blank nozzles are available for many brands (e.g., Rain Bird pop-up sprays, Rain Bird 5000+, Hunter PGPs, and PGJs rotary sprinklers). You can plug other sprinklers by filling standard nozzles with a bit of silicone caulk.
  • Use spray nozzle adjustment screws to shut off flow. Many newer spray nozzles (e.g., Hunter and Toro) can be shut down by tightening the small screw on top. Older Toro nozzles can be replaced with newer ones with this feature. Variable arc nozzles on sprays can be shut off using the adjustment ring.
  • Remove and cap sprinklers. Any sprinkler can be removed by excavating the soil around it, unscrewing the sprinkler body, and replacing it with a screw-on plug or cap. Removal prevents lingering drips or damage to shutoff heads that still pop up when the system is running.

Replace sprinkler nozzles to match the area watered

Installing sprinkler nozzles with a spray radius and pattern (half circle, quarter circle, etc.) that match the area watered can eliminate dry or over watered spots caused by improper nozzles, or stop spraying areas where water is not needed.

  • Always use Matched Precipitation Rate (MPR) nozzles that are designed for your sprinkler brand. MPR nozzles provide even watering rates between sprinklers with different spray patterns.
  • Variable Adjustment Nozzles (VANs) for spray heads can be set to water 0 to 320 degrees of a circle, automatically adjusting water flow to match the area covered. VANs with a radius under 10 feet apply water faster than standard nozzles, so should only be used in zones that are all VANs.
  • New “MP Rotators” from Hunter (also sold as Rain Bird “Rotary Nozzles”) can replace standard spray nozzles to improve watering uniformity in areas 13 to 24 feet wide; they help fix low pressure problems and heads spaced too far apart. Replace all nozzles in a zone for even coverage.
  • Nozzles on rotary sprinklers should be changed so that heads that only rotate a half circle only spray half as many gallons per minute as those that cover a full circle (and quarter circle heads should apply only one-fourth what a full circle head applies, etc).

Move or raise blocked spray heads

Sprinklers that become blocked by plant foliage or thatch buildup create dry spots that can kill plants and runoff that erodes soil. Moving heads to a place where the spray can spread freely is often a simple solution.

  • Put sprinklers or spray nozzles on risers. Threaded ½-inch PVC risers or Orbit™ adjustable height risers can be screwed into the sockets of existing sprinklers to spray over plants. Spray nozzles or sprinklers can be screwed directly onto the risers. Plastic threaded risers can be purchased in appropriate lengths to raise sprinklers above thatch layers.
  • Move sprinklers from behind shrubs. Most sprinklers are attached to pipe using flexible tubing and adjustable fittings, allowing them to be moved or raised small distances fairly easily. Moving heads screwed directly to solid pipe requires cutting pipe and installing new fittings.

Find and fix leaks

Most systems run at night or very early in the morning, so you don’t see them in operation. Run your sprinkler system at least once a month and check for broken heads, leaks, plants blocking heads, and other water wasting problems.

  • Broken sprinkler heads: If you notice unusual wet spots or dry areas in your lawn, turn your sprinkler system on and watch it operate. Repair or replace any broken or clogged sprinkler heads.
  • Weak output: Watch your irrigation system in operation. Weak output at one or more sprinkler heads means there may be a leak, clog, or break somewhere. Weak output can also be caused by too many sprinklers on your system.
  • Wet spots: Muddy spots, eroding soil, and bulging sod can all be signs of a broken pipe or riser. If your lawn is where the birds find worms, even when the weather is dry, this can also be a sign of trouble. You may need to do some digging to find the problem. Underground leaks can be difficult to identify and may need to be located by a specialist. Around your valves, the difficulty is typically loose connections or aging washers.
  • The lowest sprinkler head leaks constantly: The problem isn’t the sprinkler, but the valve—it’s probably not shutting off completely. Other signs of trouble are taller or greener grass or moss growing around the sprinkler. Inspect the valve and replace any worn or damaged parts.
  • The valve box fills with water: If the valve box fills during watering, it should quickly drain afterwards. If it doesn’t, you may have a leak. To find out, drain the box and look for leaks. Tighten packing nuts and replace washers if necessary.

If you think you have a leak but can’t find its source, turn off all fixtures (indoors and out) and check to see if your meter is running. If it is, you have a leak somewhere. Indoors, toilets are a likely cause of leaks. The City has free toilet leak detection tablets available for our water and sewer customers. Contact us and we’ll send them out. If you can’t find the leak indoors, and you suspect it might be your irrigation system, you may need to call a contractor to assist you.

Use a smart controller

Smart irrigation controllers automatically adjust watering times based on weather conditions to provide optimal moisture for healthy plants and conserve water. You could see water savings of up to 30% by upgrading to an approved smart controller!

City of Olympia Water customers can receive a 50% rebate, up to $200, of the installed cost of a qualifying irrigation smart controller.

Convert sprinklers to drip irrigation

Most planting beds can be irrigated more efficiently using drip irrigation. Drip applies water directly to the soil, eliminating waste from evaporation, spray on unplanted areas, and blockage by foliage.

Benefits of drip irrigation include:

  • Water only where needed, not on unplanted areas.
  • Fewer sprouting weeds.
  • Reduced plant diseases spread by splashing soil and wet foliage.
  • No dead plants from sprinklers blocked by other plants.
  • Less work moving hoses and sprinklers!

There are many types of drip; the most durable and easy to install is one-half inch flexible tubing with emitters factory-installed at 12-inch intervals or popped in only at plants where needed. The parts fit together using common tools, and can be hooked up to a hose spigot or existing sprinkler system.  Drip can be placed above ground, and a few zones can water a larger area. All of the parts needed to convert sprays to drip are available at local hardware and home improvement centers, or through drip irrigation parts catalogs.


Contact Erin Conine at 360.570.3793 or waterwise@ci.olympia.wa.us