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NMSU turfgrass researchers focus on subsurface drip irrigation
Staff Report | January 6, 2017

New Mexico State University researchers are conducting an irrigation efficiency study at the city of Albuquerque’s Paradise Meadows Park. While half of the park will use a traditional sprinkler-type watering system (right), NMSU will oversee the other half of the park, on which a subsurface drip irrigation system has been installed (left).
Photo: New Mexico State University

Researchers in the New Mexico State University College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences are determining methods to improve irrigation efficiency. They believe subsurface irrigation may be the solution to wasted water and high water costs.

Specifically, says NMSU Extension Turfgrass Specialist Bernd Leinauer, subsurface drip irrigation is the newest method in achieving turfgrass watering efficiency.

The NMSU Turfgrass Salinity Research Center is home to several types of turfgrass plots.
Photo: NMSU photo by Kristie Garcia

“Although subsurface drip irrigation has been used in agriculture for decades, it’s just making its way into the turfgrass industry,” Leinauer said. “And it’s the only system that limits irrigation to exactly the area that needs to be irrigated.”

Leinauer has been the lead on two recent projects that will further test these research findings.

Last summer, Leinauer and his research team led a project to install a subsurface drip irrigation system in several tee boxes at The Club at Las Campanas in Santa Fe. The project is a collaboration among NMSU, Las Campanas, United States Golf Association and irrigation manufacturers Toro and Rain Bird. USGA awarded NMSU a grant to assist with the research.

Leinauer and his team also are conducting a study at the city of Albuquerque’s Paradise Meadows Park. While half of the park will use a traditional pop-up sprinkler watering system, NMSU will oversee the other half of the park, on which a subsurface drip irrigation system has been installed.

“This project is interesting from the perspective that we were able to scale up our research findings,” Leinauer said. “We’re able to take our research findings and implement them in a park, which is significantly larger than test plots or the traditional residential turf areas. For the funding agencies that have supported our research in water conservation, it is particularly important to document that technology not only works in a research setting but can be successfully scaled up to real world situations.”

In the next three to five years, NMSU researchers and city officials in Albuquerque expect to determine whether the subsurface drip irrigation system helped conserve water.

In addition to irrigation efficiency, NMSU research also focuses on salt and drought tolerance. Leinauer said there’s been a shift to new types of waters with higher salinity levels, such as saline ground water, treated effluent or recycled water.

“In the future, having grasses available that can tolerate higher salt concentrations in the water and in the soil will become paramount to keeping green grass in urban settings,” Leinauer said. “Therefore, we need to screen for salt tolerance in addition to screening for drought tolerance in new grasses.”

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