WELS scheme for domestic controllers

The Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) Scheme helps Australians choose products which are water efficient. The WELS star rating has been very successful in assisting buyers to include the products water consumption in their decision making process.

DEWHA engaged Irrigation Association Limited (IAL) and HydroPlan to review the possibility of expanding the Scheme to include domestic irrigation flow controllers. HydroPlan's team included Jeremy Cape and the consultancy included a workshop where industry representatives from across Australia were invited to participate.

The amount of water required to do the job of sustaining plants in a complex natural environment is much more difficult to define and measure than the amount of water required to do the job of washing clothes or dishes in a controlled environment.

The review considered all forms of 'domestic irrigation flow controllers' which in this context included manual control of flow using a tap, semi-automatic shut-off of flow using a mechanical 'tap-timer', and pre-programmed control of flow using electrronic controller. The highest rating would be given to controllers which controlled irrigation events based on environmental sensors.

The irrigation industry welcomed this opportunity to discuss ways to improve water use efficiency. With improved understanding by regulators and the public, water restrictions which focus on consumption can be replaced with those which focus on efficiency.

Many low cost controllers water according to fixed schedules, and this was mandated by some water authorities during water restrictions by limiting irrigation to a specific day (or days) of the week. The final report included the comment that 'Wednesday is not a good reason to irrigate'. 

Meantime sophisticated controllers which have sensors to interact with the local environment, and an ability to schedule efficient irrigation events, are prevented under such water restrictions from irrigating according to optimum schedules.

However, the review concluded that even the most sophisticated controllers are just components of an irrigation system. Hence their ability to deliver water efficiently is dependent on all components being well designed, installed and maintained.

The industry recognises that sophisticated controllers are a key part of the potential solution but like other low cost electronic products, there is a lot of innovation and diversity and it is not feasible for the industry to develop best practice guidelines, let alone standards, as quickly as the industry can innovate. Therefore leaders will tend to be penalised by regulations which are designed to enforce standards. The waterless urinal was cited as an example. It uses a microbiol technology instead of water so it is unable to comply with the standards and testing regimes created to assess the volume of water needed to properly flush a urinal. As it uses no water, it is unable to get a water efficiency star rating. 

The rating of irrigation event controllers would struggle to achieve the aims of the WELS scheme with regard to domestic water consumption because it is only one part of the total irrigation system. Whilst the industry is generally supportive of developing standards and labelling schemes, they recognise there is significant work to be done before it could eventuate. The IAL supports the Smart Approved Water Mark which was set up in 2004 as a 'sister' to WELS. Instead of legislation based on prescriptive standards, SAWM is based on industry knowledge and flexible guideliines which encourage innovation.

See the final report and followup assessments:

http://www.waterrating.gov.au/resource/potential-expansion-wels-scheme-include-domestic-irrigation-controllers 

The water supply for the mining town of Alyangula on