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Going green

IronHorse subdivision will utilize Earth Advantage, WeatherTRAK in its homes to conserve energy, water

by: ANNEMARIE KNEPPER/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Above, houses are being constructed at IronHorse in Prineville with the WeatherTRAK water monitoring system.

Water availability and growth are two of the most discussed issues for Prineville city officials as well as residents, and Brooks Resources' IronHorse is playing a unique role in both.
   What will soon be Prineville's largest subdivision, with 2,771 homesites, IronHorse is employing two programs designed for better environmental stewardship, Earth Advantage and WeatherTRAK.
   "Earth Advantage is a required program that the building needs to use and the homeowner needs to comply with," said Randy Jones, project manager for IronHorse.
   "WeatherTRAK is a technology that ultimately affords the homeowner a net savings over the life of that home and drastically reduces the demand on municipal water supply and reduces storm water runoff."
   He said Earth Advantage has been tied to similar energy and conservation-oriented initiatives in central Oregon and HydroPoint Data Systems, the company behind WeatherTRAK, has developed a technology that over the last 10 to 15 years has been completely vetted by projects throughout the west.
   Jones said the WeatherTRAK technology is new to Prineville and new to central Oregon in some respects but is not new to the irrigation industry.
   "We are not guinea pigs and this is not a test case," he said.
   He said both programs have a history that can be modeled so that they can forecast what the program will look like at IronHorse.
   Earth Advantage is a third-party certified point system that awards its points based on resource and energy efficiency. It is managed by the Energy Trust of Oregon.
   Construction has already began on IronHorse and Earth Advantage will be there every step of the way, Jones said.
   The design of the home has been reviewed by Earth Advantage staff and, as houses near completion the quality and efficiency of materials is rated.
   For example, window insulation, door seals, and air quality are all checked. Builders get more points by using recycled materials.
   "Earth Advantage is monitoring the progression of construction," the project manager said. "At the end of that construction period every home is tested."
   Jones stressed the monetary savings to the homeowner over time. Even in our lifetime alone there has been an extensive upward trend in the cost of gas and electric power.
   "The more efficient you can be the more you will affect personally, your expense on those utilities," he said.
   He said Energy Advantage homes may only have slightly different details in their construction and design.
   "You don't have to give up a lot in order to comply with the program," Jones said.
   Water supply in Prineville and Crook County is a pressing issue right now.
   The city and county's ability to continue to meet current demand for water, let alone future demand, is a regular topic at municipal meetings.
   "There is a supply concern," Jones said. "There's a lot of folks that are thinking about it and we are too."
   He said IronHorse represents more of the demand side of water. Though the community will also cross over to the supply side at times.
   IronHorse will eventually have two storage reservoirs on site that will serve not only IronHorse but other parts of the city as well.
   They also hope to have a well, Jones said.
   Representing the efficiency side of IronHorse's environmental initiative is HydroPoint Data Systems' WeatherTRAK.
   Senior Product Specialist Tim Hammond said 40 to 50 percent of electrical costs come from moving water from point A to point B.
   In projects that were monitored in California, water runoff was reduced by 70 percent.
   "Up in the Northwest we are focusing on [some] cities that want to revitalize the streams for steelhead or salmon," Hammond said. "But they can't because of some of the sources of pollutants."
   He continued by explaining when a landscape is over-watered by 40 to 50 percent - a statistical average for some commercial sites - a lot of that excess is just moving contaminants.
   "When you water specifically to a landscape, you keep the pollutants, as well as the nitrites where they were originally applied, not down in the gutter."
   Enter WeatherTRAK, a "smart" irrigation controller that uses local weather data to determine the amount of water a landscape needs as the weather changes.
   "In some cities we've been proven to save millions of dollars of infrastructure," Hammond said, citing the city of Irvine, Calif. as an example.
   "They are using less water now than they did 10 years ago by going with smart water technology," he said.
   The WeatherTRAK system is so specific, it "knows" the weather six-tenths of a square mile around the address of the home.
   "It's very site-specific," Hammond said. "If it is 100 degrees one day, it will water to that and if it's snowing the next day it might not irrigate for five or six days automatically, because of those ET (evapotranspiration) rates of change."
   Though they have not yet decided on a brand, Crook County Parks and Recreation District officials said they will be looking into buying the technology for use in the handful of parks that use city water for irrigation.
   "There are a lot of water systems that could benefit from using these types of controllers," said Parks Supervisor Duane Garner.
   Complimenting the program is IronHorse official's suggestion to homeowners to landscape with native vegetation. Using native ornamentals also reduces fire risk.
   "The intent here is to apply the amount of water the plant actually needs," Jones said. Many people actually hurt or kill their lawns or gardens by over-watering.
   "We know that plants love sun and they love water," he said. "So if five minutes of watering is good, seven minutes is better, and no you've completely saturated the root system. At some point, water can't penetrate water so it just runs off."
   Jones said the collective goal is to "completely decapitate" the summer water usage spike graphed each year.
   "By applying only the amount of water the plant needs, you are nipping away at that," he said.
   Jones said he hopes other residential developers as well as commercial and industrial developers embrace energy and water efficiencies systems like WeatherTRAK and Earth Advantage.
   "It's all technology that's readily available now," he said. "And it's proven."