With water rates headed through the roof, a Petaluma company is selling "smart" technology that keeps lawns and shrubs green while reducing water use up to 59 percent.
HydroPoint Data Systems uses daily weather reports, downloaded from satellites, to run automatic sprinkler systems. The information is radioed to on-site irrigation controllers.
"You're putting a virtual weather station in everyone's back yard," said HydroPoint chief executive Chris Spain.
HydroPoint's business has taken off since it was founded in 2002. So far this year, HydroPoint has shipped 41,000 printed circuit boards for its WeatherTRAK irrigation control system.
While many of its systems are sold to commercial users, HydroPoint also is tapping the residential market through deals with major home builders such as Shea Homes.
HydroPoint markets its own system and has agreements with the Toro Co.'s Irritrol Systems to put its technology in their controllers.
Earlier this month, HydroPoint announced it has raised $5million in a second round of venture funding, bringing its total capitalization to $16.8million.
The company hopes to turn a profit next year and have more than a million systems in homes and businesses by 2010, Spain said.
HydroPoint has 43 employees, with 33 at its headquarters off South McDowell Boulevard in Petaluma.
Rising water rates, mandatory conservation rules and water pollution problems all are driving demand for more efficient irrigation systems, Spain said.
"We're all hearing that there's less and less water," he said. Santa Rosa will hike water rates by 18 percent over the next two years.
Spain said most people overirrigate their lawns and landscaping, paying 35 percent to 50 percent extra for the wasted water. Overwatering also can cause erosion and kill plants, he said.
Paul Elmore, chief executive at RNM Properties, a commercial developer with 700,000 square feet of office, retail and warehouse space in Sonoma County, said his company reduced water use dramatically after installing WeatherTRAK earlier this year at one of its locations in Petaluma.
Elmore said water consumption dropped 46 percent for June and July and 27 percent for August and September. "It's a pretty amazing system," he said.
WeatherTRAK uses information about plant type, soil, slope and sprinkler style to establish a watering schedule for each landscape zone. HydroPoint then adjusts the schedule every day with weather data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's satellite system.
The data from 14,000 weather stations include humidity, temperature, wind and solar radiation, which WeatherTRAK uses to calculate plants' rate of moisture loss. The information is localized down to a square kilometer.
WeatherTRAK then transmits a signal to a built-in radio at each location, telling the controller exactly how much water to apply. Studies in two California water districts found water savings of 25 percent to 59 percent using WeatherTrak, according to HydroPoint.
The system also reduced irrigation runoff, a source of water pollution, up to 71 percent.
The systems cost $400 to $500 and require a $4 monthly subscription. Spain said they pay for themselves in water savings and some water agencies are offering rebates for up to half the cost.
WeatherTRAK's printed circuit boards are made in China and loaded with software at a company in Southern California. HydroPoint's Petaluma staff includes system assemblers, software engineers, chip designers, data experts, customer service representatives and horticultural consultants.