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Fix a Leak Week – Irrigation Leak Troubleshooting

Fix a Leak Week – Irrigation Leak Troubleshooting

Alina Golovinova |

Sometimes we find that our irrigation systems are leaking - we just don't know where or how to fix it.

Troubleshooting an irrigation leak

In troubleshooting an irrigation leak some considerations should be made at the start:

  • There is a water meter at the street, and it has a small rotating triangle when water is turned on or there is a small drip. If this meter is turning, you are using water in some way even if it is just dripping. Ensure there are no dripping taps, dishwashers, running toilets, water tanks, etc. If no interior water is running, it is time to check outside.
  • Try the hose bib. There are times when a hose bib seal can fail due to debris, age, or a winter freeze. In some cases, the hose bib may be the irrigation source connection.
  • If you have checked all of these possibilities and the meter is still turning, there may be a leak with the actual irrigation system.

Is there really a Leak?

  • Sometimes there may be drainage issues or saturated clay soil where too much water is pooling. Its a good idea to look at your drainage system when the sprinklers are in normal use.
  • Timers can be generous sometimes, and sprays can create monsoon like conditions where a lot of water falls in a relatively short time. Check your timer to assure there are no extra watering settings and assure your times are not too generous. You are welcome to come ask us at Wes-Tech or your irrigation tech if this is the case!

How do I know if it's a Main Line Leak?

If no water is in use in the house, and sprinklers are off, hose bib timer isn't leaking but the meter is turning, this could mean a break in the main line. To fix this, trace the path of the main line and look for water welling up in the soil. If the pooling is not obvious, it may take an irrigation tech and more work to find and fix the problem. Make sure to check around valve boxes and even the meter itself would be a good idea. Or areas such as the main shutoff, backflow device, any isolation valves or valve manifold components that could be fouled in some way.

Zone Line Leaks

  1. Sprinkler head weeping – If you have sprinkler heads on a slope, the water in the line will drain by gravity down to the last head. This may take a while when that particular zone finishes its cycle. If the head does not stop weeping, there may be a slow leak in the electric valve that supplies that zone. It could be a ruptured solenoid, a punctured diaphragm or simply debris caught in the valve. Taking apart the valve, flushing the valve and re-assembly may cure this. Sometimes, the slim venturi chambers in the valve can clog, and the easiest solution is simply to replace the valve.
  2. Low head drain – to cure sprinkler end of cycle weeping for sprinklers on a slope, many models of sprays and rotors have an optional ‘check valve’. This retains water in the line when the cycle ends, preventing low head drain.
  3. Check valve drip line. Drip line installed on a slope? No problem! Some varieties of drip line have check valves built in to the dripper. This way when properly installed on a slope, water is held in the line at the end of the cycle instead of draining out at the bottom.
  4. Look for excessive pooling around pop-up sprays and rotors. Some things to watch for:
  • Water spewing from spray seal – this could be debris, age or winter damage. When the zone pressure comes up, the spray should not leak from the telescoping portion.
  • Water bubbling from below the spray or rotor – there may be a broken fitting below the spray, or the barrel of the spray or rotor may be ruptured. There could also be a ruptured fitting nearby where the spray connects into the zone line.
  • Broken, missing or ruptured nozzle – a mower hit, age, wear and tear could all mean excess water coming out of a nozzle.

“None of my sprays pop all the way up”

If your zone has worked in the past and suddenly none of the sprays come up fully, there may be some pressure loss in the line. Assure no other uses of that water supply are taking away from the irrigation.

  • On a spray zone, most nozzles have a small adjustment on the top. Turning a screwdriver clockwise twists an internal screw into the nozzle filter. This restricts the flow or shuts it off entirely. You can go through the sprays on your zone and ‘lock down’ the sprays. If there is a broken line, often times the water will rise up to the surface, indicating the general area of the break.
  • Another method to lock down sprays is to use several of the ‘cap-pop’ available at Wes-tech. This is a gadget that can cap the spray without excavating or altering the nozzle.
  • On a rotor zone, some rotors have a shut off feature. Many however do not, so deeper pipe troubleshooting may require removing the rotor and capping the fitting below.
  • NOTE: If there are too many sprays on the zone for the amount of flow available, none of the sprays will perform, or pop up fully and seal.

“I have a leak coming from my above-ground valve.”

  • Many installations have an older style anti-siphon valve. These are often known as ‘711’ valves, referring to the Irritrol / Richdel 2711 and 2713 series.
  • If the zone line in question has a slope higher than the anti-siphon valve, it's possible that at the end of the cycle some nuisance spillage will come out of the anti-siphon portion of the valve. If this ends up being a steady chronic leak, it could be a stuck valve as described above.

“I've turned on my system for the season and all my valves are on“

One method of winterizing a sprinkler system requires the valves to be open when blowing compressed air through the system. There's a chance that whomever did the winterization may have left the valve ‘bleed screw’ or solenoid open in order to allow air through. Sure enough, as spring arrives and we turn on the irrigation supply, those valves would still pass water until the bleed screws and solenoids are twisted hand tight – clockwise.