Executive Summary

Though San Diego State University has been a long-time user of the Calsense Resource Management System, 2015 brought new challenges as state and local mandates pushed for tighter water restrictions at the height of California’s recent drought. This created a call to action and a strategic plan as to best manage irrigation water more efficiently campus wide.

  • A new landscape services manager position filled
  • Annual water usage reports via Calsense flow monitoring used to prioritize highest water usage areas on campus
  • High water usage areas evaluated and actions taken based on 1) types of plant material planted and action decided to remove or replace with drought tolerant, native ones, and low input, sustainable grasses and 2) type of irrigation system installed and action decided to upgrade either to drip tubing or MP rotator spray heads for greater water efficiency applications
  • Renewed understanding and use of advanced controller functions such as crop coefficient factors and daily ET data to apply water efficiently to common lawn areas on campus
  • Water saved while maintaining curb appeal of campus landscape


San Diego State University is a public research university functioning as the oldest and largest higher educational institution in San Diego County, with over 33,778 students enrolled as of 2016.  The 282 acre university, twice the size of Disneyland, was founded in 1897 and is continuing to grow with new additions to the campus such as the recent South Campus Plaza.  SDSU students are offered a large range of opportunities to participate in research, international experiences, sustainability and entrepreneurship initiatives, plus a broad range of student life and leadership activities. SDSU has been a customer of Calsense for over 20 years, previously winning the Best Practice Award for Water Efficiency/Site Water Quality at the CSU/UC/CCC Sustainability Conference at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 2008. The SDSU staff has maintained adoption of new controllers over the years as technology improved and as the administrative team transitioned to new leadership.



  • Irrigation ranked as second highest category of water usage on the campus during one of the worst droughts in California history
  • Only two irrigation specialists to manage the entire campus
  • SDSU Landscape Services acquired new management in 2015 just as the drought was coming into full public focus, requiring an immediate overhaul of previous practices that were not utilizing Calsense controllers to their fullest potential
  • Continuing the transition from a standard phone line communication system to Ethernet during campus renovations
  • Changing the desired aesthetics of campus landscaping in order to transition to drought tolerant plants

How Calsense Helped

In 2015, SDSU Facilities Services acquired Joshua Koss as their new Landscape Services Manager, who was challenged immediately with severe drought restrictions set forth by Governor Jerry Brown requiring a 25% reduction. As a public university, SDSU was required to take immediate action to maintain positive public relations. Utilizing the flow monitoring feature of the Calsense controllers, the Landscape Services team was able to use detailed water usage reports and pinpoint the most water-intensive areas. This in turn set the stage to structure new methodology for a more water efficient program. The top five zones were the first to receive retrofitting with more water efficient sprinkler head applications and renovation to more native species of plants.

Another challenge the Landscape Services team faced was improving the controller settings to allow for smart and efficient watering. The Calsense system utilizes Evapo-transpiration or ET data which accounts for water that evaporates from soils and transpires from plant material into the atmosphere. By properly fine-tuning the percentage of ET by zone, the Calsense system was able to adjust station run times to avoid under-watering or over-watering.  At the time Josh inherited management of the Calsense system, crop coefficient settings were set up identically across all plant types, meaning programming did not consider variation of plant needs. By properly adjusting crop coefficients, plants automatically received only the water necessary to maintain optimum health based on specific plant type need. Through fine-tuning and teaching others how to use the controllers more efficiently, the SDSU irrigation team was able to receive more automated results.

As SDSU continues to renovate the campus to match university growth, efforts are made to upgrade older Calsense models along the way.  The Calsense sales and field service representatives have maintained a close working relationship with campus staff for over 20 years.  This involves slowly upgrading from an old dial-up phone communication system to Ethernet communications, which is one of several options for connecting CS3000 controllers to the Calsense Command Center Online (CCO) software. Ethernet based communication allows users to manage controllers from any device with internet access, rather than visiting controllers in person or from a shared desktop computer in an office. SDSU is taking full advantage of the Calsense Upgrade Program, which offers new CS3000 controller technology at a discounted price.


Following mandatory drought restrictions, the public university had no choice but to structure an irrigation approach that would both save water and the aesthetic style of the SDSU campus. The team held grass health as the top plant priority, since it provided the most aesthetic and functional appeal for the campus. Utilizing the ET weather feature properly allowed for each type of grass to be watered at the minimum level to maintain good health, making irrigation far more efficient. In addition, some of the grass types were changed to Kikuyu grass, a low input and aggressive grass which requires less maintenance; less water and less fertilizer.  Non-programmable grass areas were retrofitted with new drought-tolerant plants that fit within the Mediterranean/subtropical style of the campus, and some areas now offer more functional uses to students such as tables and chairs intermixed among the landscaping and trees.  Now through the toughest part of the drought, the SDSU Landscape Services department has transformed to tolerate future water shortages without compromising style.

The trend of moving to internet communications for the controllers on campus allows for a more flexible approach to water management, as users can work from anywhere to change controller settings and check water usage. This is vital for the limited irrigation team at SDSU. For example, on a past soccer game night at the Sports Deck, the coach asked if a short 2-minute manual program could come on 15 minutes later than scheduled before the game started. None of the sports turf or irrigation staff was on campus. Josh was able to login on his mobile device at home via the Calsense cloud software and change the time instantly, check in with the coach and enjoy meeting his needs via technology.

The irrigation team at SDSU values the Calsense system for its durability, reliability and ease of function, allowing them to achieve their complex and particular goals in efficient ways. High quality Calsense controllers are paired with the honest and genuine service provided by Calsense field service staff, maintaining a trusting relationship that works with each others’ needs for over two decades. The vision of the SDSU Landscape Services team is to be sustainably responsible, and Calsense continues to play a major role in making that idea a reality.


“We are on a public platform here, we are a student entity… we need to do things responsibly. Calsense by far, out of any tool we use, helps our team be responsible.”

Joshua Koss, SDSU Landscape Services Manager

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