JoAnne Skelly: Irrigation woes

JoAnne Skelly

JoAnne Skelly

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Last week our antiquated irrigation system broke down again. We have maintained, adjusted, dug up, rebuilt and jury-rigged this inherited system since 1988. I can’t remember how many timers, valves and sprinklers my husband (the brains of our irrigation repair team) has replaced, how many sprinklers and broken lines I have dug up, and how many poplar, ash and pine roots I have wrestled with through the years. Fortunately, we now have an irrigation repairman; and we no longer have to do all the work.
When I called for repair, I thought (hoped?) it might be a small fix. It was only a valve, right? One half of one of the stations came on automatically. The other half worked, but only manually. Unfortunately, with a system this old, repairs are rarely simple. In addition to the faulty valve, we realized there were quite a few leaks in the main pipes feeding the system. And, the timer seemed to be dying too.
The repairman first came last fall and I’m surprised he was willing to come back after another “simple” valve fix became a replacement of all the valves, digging up a broken pipe under the driveway and more.
This time, he initially thought he might have to trench from the well box where the controls and the pipes are located, 75 feet or more through the yard (and through the roots of eight 40-year-old trees) to the wonky valve. That much digging would have destroyed our yard and been very expensive. After he and my husband talked, they thought maybe the faulty timer had blown an electrical part of the valve. After replacing that part, the valve worked. Hurrah! No destructive, expensive trenching needed. But we needed a new timer.
The repairman was trying to install a new timer, getting frustrated with the mess of the old wires. He had to untangle and figure everything out, before he could install the new timer. Then, after replacing the leaky pipes and fittings and just when he thought he was done, a different pipe blew out when he pressurized the system. It was late and he couldn’t fix it that day. We had to wait three days without any outside water for him to fit us into the schedule and finish.
In the end, he did a great job and we were glad it was him and not us doing the work. We got lucky with the cool and overcast weather for the three days we waited, so plants didn’t suffer. If you find a good irrigation repair person, hang onto to them and treat them well!
Remember, June 20-26 is Pollinator Week. Take care of your pollinators.
JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Reach her at


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