Mission of a grounds supervisor at DSUSD: Reduce irrigation water waste at DSUSD sites.


Enrique Leon joined the team at Desert Sands Unified School District just over five years ago. He had a mission in mind as grounds supervisor to reduce irrigation water waste at DSUSD sites. His commitment was both to the environment and the district budget. His efforts included new systems of irrigation and a step-by-step plan to replace decorative grass and bushes with desert landscaping.

Reducing Irrigation Water Waste at DSUSD

Ground Supervisor Enrique Leon

“It is all about solutions,” said Leon, a certified irrigation technician and California Landscape Irrigation Auditor (CLIA). After 18 years working with a neighboring school district, Leon, living in the district area, couldn’t help noticing that the landscape at the schools included over-growing grass with excessive broadleaf weeds, sites with no grass, uneven fields, and plants that required heavy watering. So when the grounds supervisor position opened at DSUSD, he felt compelled to apply.

As Leon explained, the first thing he did was create a central control irrigation system as the existing irrigation system was outdated. “We implemented the usage of ET (Evapotranspiration) in our irrigation programs.” He went on to explain that the team implemented an ET irrigation control system. This system combines state-of-the-art horticulture science and proprietary web-based technology to automate sprinkler and drip irrigation scheduling. Watering takes place based on current weather conditions and specific landscape factors, including plant type, soil type, slope, and sun/shade.

The satellite service used to control water levels is at no cost from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) but it requires system installation and programming that was accompanied by the DSUSD technology team. Leon said, ”Let me explain how it works. If you have a 12 ounce bottle of water and you drink two ounces, then want to replace the water; you will return only the two ounces because more than that will spill from the bottle; the same happens with soil. The weather station reads how much was evaporated, talks to the irrigation computer, and adjusts the irrigation programs to the exact water needed to replace the day’s water loss or evaporation. We don’t overwater using this program even though we have five different ET zones in our valley.”

Reducing Irrigation Water Waste at DSUSD

Principal David Gustafson, Ed.D., Grounds Supervisor Enrique Leon, and Superintedent Scott Bailey checking out the zeroscape at Eisenhower Community Education Center in Indio.

Leon explained that our desert has five different zones throughout the 752 square miles that make up Desert Sands Unified School District. Each zone must be taken into consideration when irrigating. These zones include the higher winds in areas such as Shadow Hills High School, Desert Ridge Academy, and Andrew Jackson Elementary School compared to lesser wind strength in the Indio High School area. In addition, various types of soil can be found throughout the valley, from sand, silt, clay, and sandy loam. Other factors considered are root-depth of plants and grass, what plants/grass are in the shade, and what plants/grass receive direct sunlight.

The water savings began almost immediately. Along with DSUSD Director of Maintenance, Operations, and Transportation Gabriel DeLaO, Leon met with this “reporter” to explain the means being used to reduce water usage throughout the district’s properties.

As Leon, DeLaO and their team of 22 landscape professionals, including three additional certified irrigation technicians, went to work, they not only reduced the district landscape water usage, they eliminated the fines paid by the district for overconsumption of water.

Reducing Irrigation Water Waste at DSUSD

Superintendent Scott Bailey and Grounds Supervisor Enrique Leon flank Indo Water Authority General Manager Trish Rhay during a presentation of one of the appreciated rebate checks.

In just a few short years, they have been responsible for the section receiving over $230,000 in rebates from the Coachella Valley and Indio water districts. In addition, each year, the two water districts provide numbers on customer efficiency. The 2020-2021 figures place the school district at close to 80% efficiency. This is among the top ratings in the desert.

Additional programs instituted by Leon and the team include:

Fields Aerification (also known as aeration) relieves soil compaction providing a method to improve soil mixture around the highest part of a green’s roots, reducing or preventing the accumulation of excess thatch. This process also serves to save water and provides a better surface for playing fields and playgrounds.

Top Dressing Fields includes the application of a uniform thin layer of soil or finely granulated organic materials over turf surface. It is used to level the playing field when minor variations or depressions are apparent, helps to amend physical soil properties, and creates a better growing environment for the turf. This process keeps the fields even and helps reduce injuries by eliminating depressions in the grassy surface.

Fertilizer Programs provide the appropriate level of nutrition to grass. This promotes turf density and, in turn, improves field safety and playing conditions. Many factors influence the ultimate fertilizer program including grass species, soil type, time of the year, intensity of field use and performance expectation, and the budget.

IPM Program (Integrated Pest Management) is a system for managing pest problems using a range of safe, least-toxic methods. IPM is integrated because it uses biological, organic, cultural, mechanical, and chemical options for managing pest problems.

The improvement of the grounds at all Desert Sands sites, including playground areas and sports fields, is a year-round program. The team continues to seek out the best, most cost-effective, and efficient methods to provide safe play areas for students and showcase desert landscaping and save money for the district. As Leon says, “It is all about the kids!”

Editor’s note: Enrique Leon, DSUSD grounds supervisor, provided considerable input for this article.

Image Sources

  • Ground Supervisor Enrique Leon: DSUSD
  • Desert Sands Unified School District’s Education Center: DSUSD