When it sprinkles it pours

Irrigation woes on a portion of the Island County campus have turned on enough figurative light bulbs in the Planning Department to illuminate the office in which it resides.

The south side of the courthouse uses an aging sprinkler system inferior to irrigation the newer campus buildings receive. When county personnel began replacing sprinkler heads for the older system at the beginning of the year, the broken ground opened up a can of worms.

“As they started digging up the irrigation pipes, they started finding a whole bunch of issues,” Planning Director Jeff Tate told the Board of Island County Commissioners at a recent staff session.

Broken and unconnected irrigation pipes were the norm, not the exception. And many of the pipes had evicted the plastic caps designed to keep in water. The ground was being irrigated, but little else received the life-giving liquid.

“It’s been running water subsurface,” Tate said. “Some of the sprinkler heads out there were not connected to the system at all. That was curious.”

White pipes protruding from the ground in the faulty irrigation area outside the courthouse are vestigial organs unconnected to any of the sprinkler system’s main arteries.

“When we turn on the sprinklers, it’s not getting to the system,” Tate said. “And there’s a cavity underneath the concrete there.”

Conservation District funds might be available to cut some of the curbs that would allow gravity to do its job and flow into vegetated areas needing a water fix. By covering the catch basin, runoff would bypass the metal grill and create a “rain garden” in the choked sections.

“We’d start small and look at different spots. We can do this for very little,” Tate said. If flooding occurred in the rain gardens, the catch basin would be opened and a cleaner, soil-filtered water would flow into the receptacle.

The six-year-old sprinkler system is currently being updated. But Tate has bigger, aesthetically-minded plans. The planning department knows where each private or commercial grading and clearing project is slated. Before the more resilient, drought-tolerant, native plants are disposed of, the county would swoop in, rescue the flora and “transplant” species like salal and rhododendrons on the campus.

“It’s plant salvage,” Tate said as he walked the targeted landscaping areas Wednesday afternoon.

Aside from the facelift and the conservation benefits, the more efficient and inexpensive irrigation options would also lead to monetary savings.

“If you’re not turning on the water and wasting it, that saves money,” the planning director said.

The board was amenable to the improvements. Commissioner Mac McDowell said the county supports conservation methods and should not only walk the proverbial walk, but talk the talk.

Commissioner John Dean was also enamored by the landscaping and irrigation ideas.

“I like the concept,” he said.

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