Leading the national tourism average with double-digit growth in occupancy rates, the summer of 2014 was a particularly good one for hotels in the San Francisco Bay Area. The increase in demand for visitor accommodations came in the midst of an unprecedented drought in California — the worst in decades, with three drier-than-average years so far — and approval of the first statewide rules to punish water wasters. In a unanimous vote earlier this year, the California State Water Resources Control Board approved new restrictions on outdoor water use. The restrictions, which went into effect Aug. 1, carry fines of up to $500 per violation. For Bay Area hotels where outdoor events are a business mainstay, the state government’s drought campaign “Brown is the New Green” is not a workable option.
Inn Marin, located at the mid-point between San Francisco and the Sonoma and Napa Valley wine countries, was well prepared for drought contingencies, having integrated corporate social responsibility into its business from the day it opened its doors in 1999. It recently became the first hotel property to be awarded certification at the environmentalist level for California’s Green Hotel Certification program. Many hotels that have been slow or struggling to implement green water management practices now are feeling the brunt of restrictions in budgeting for unplanned expenses to adopt water-efficient systems.
Inn Marin was an early adopter of indoor water conservation practices, some of which include cleaning all linens with botanical extract formulations that allow for the elimination of bleach, hot water and three rinse cycles; giving guests the opportunity to reuse towels or linens to do their part in reducing the energy, water and detergent required for daily washing; installing low-flow faucets, toilets and showers in all rooms and public areas; and serving filtered water in multi-gallon containers rather than individual plastic bottles for meetings and in public spaces. The hotel’s prescience in these efforts was validated by recent research that shows that more than 70% of frequent travelers prefer hotels that are engaged with their environment.
In 2013, Inn Marin contacted ETwater of Novato, Calif., about expanding its water conservation program to include landscape irrigation. ETwater manufactures a smart irrigation controller, sometimes referred to as a weather-based irrigation controller, that utilizes prevailing weather conditions, current and historic evapotranspiration, soil moisture levels, and other relevant factors to adapt watering to meet the calculated needs of plants. Whereas traditional irrigation controllers can operate automatic landscaping systems by setting only the frequency, start time and duration of a watering schedule, a smart irrigation controller measures the depletion of available plant moisture to operate a system that replenishes water only as needed. Greater water savings come from the smart controller’s ability to make irrigation adjustments automatically throughout the season with minimal human intervention. The ETwater system became the first product to complete the Irrigation Industry Assn.’s Smart Water Application Technology protocol testing.
Inn Marin liked the idea of utilizing technology to help save water on its landscaping. ETwater aggregates a massive amount of data from sources across the Internet, including soil, plant, climate and other environmental information, which it then can reference in mapping, classifying with the latest satellite technology and image-based surveying tools, to produce an optimized irrigation plan that calculates the minimum water use necessary. Providing this direct view for comparison against historical water use demonstrates exactly how much a smart controller would have saved in gallons and cost to maintain the landscape in peak health over the past 365 days. ETwater subsequently packaged this analytic system to make it freely available as an online service in the fall of 2014 to further education about smart irrigation and allow anyone to create an irrigation plan, with or without installing a smart controller.
Further incentive and value for Inn Marin in working with ETwater was that it could easily upgrade without rewiring its site for new controllers through installation of the HermitCrab retrofit product. Released in 2011, it provides a low-cost, plug-and-play solution for upgrading conventional controllers to smart irrigation technology. It was developed to help accelerate the adoption of smart irrigation at existing landscaped sites where the cost of “ripping and replacing” an entire system would be cost-prohibitive. A new system with HermitCrab includes all the features and functionalities of the full ETwater system, with real-time remote management from any computer, tablet or smartphone.
Measurable results following installation at Inn Marin revealed water savings of 209,727 gal in the first 60-day period from Sept. 16 to Nov. 18, 2013, during which the hotel experienced record occupancy levels.
“The ETwater HermitCrab smart controllers were installed on four watering stations in less than an hour, and at the current rate, we’re on track for an annual estimated water savings of more than a million gallons on our landscaping,” said Robert Marshall, owner and general manager of Inn Marin. “Watering based on need versus what you have set the timer to is brilliant. I see it too often: It is raining and I drive by someone’s house and the sprinklers are on because the timer does not know it is raining and the person forgot to turn the system off. The ETwater Rainfall Forecast feature shuts down my system with a forecasted rain event. I also really love the Internet management part of the system. I have the ability to pull up my account page on my iPhone or my computer and review it, or even do a timed watering. The only limit is being able to connect to the Internet. I can be anywhere in the world and manage my irrigation system — it’s just great.”
Inn Marin demonstrates the ability of small, local California businesses under drought conditions to take control of their water consumption using data, analytics and smart irrigation systems that can effectively eliminate landscape water waste. Acting green has earned them the right to look green too.