When all else fails, do it yourself. That’s what two Salt River Project employees did to improve their department’s ability to accurately measure water and, more importantly, to help distribute the precious resource SRP delivers to about 2 million people in the Valley.
When Lee Ester and Gary Weber put their heads together a few years ago and invented the GateKeeper, a simple device that has transformed from a novel concept to a working reality that is changing the way SRP zanjeros deliver water, they didn’t expect it would one day become one of SRP’s most valuable tools in the field.
Two years after its launch, the GateKeeper will soon be tasked with the bigger job of helping conserve the Valley’s water supply. With about 10 percent of the vertical gates controlling about 95 percent of the water we deliver, the more the device is utilized at those more high-use water-delivery points around SRP’s canal system, the larger the role it will be playing.
The technology, which today includes 30 GateKeepers installed in the field, 22 of which are operational with eight more being ramped up to full service, was initially designed to allow our zanjeros to adjust the gates remotely from laptop computers in their trucks. That allows them to make several gate changes at once and also reduces the time they spend traveling to gates across the Valley.
This technology represents a new era of zanjero operations, and that’s a big development for us because a zanjero’s job — one of the oldest at SRP -- has changed little over the past 100 years. Zanjeros routinely travel among the vertical gates, the barriers that occur intermittently along 131 miles of canals and 1,200 miles of laterals on SRP’s water-delivery system.
“Zanjeros have busy work schedules that require them to open or close gates in multiple locations at the same time,” said Greg Watkins, manager of SRP’s Water Operations & Maintenance. “With GateKeeper, they can use laptop computers in their trucks to operate the gates without having to travel to each location and they can now monitor flows and maintain on-time, consistent water deliveries, which are a major concern for our customers.”
Consistent water delivery is another benefit to GateKeeper, which allows the flow of water to be adjusted automatically so it stays the same. As water is delivered to SRP irrigation customers over a period of several hours, the pressure changes and the flow may fluctuate.
Our irrigation customers often notice the flow changes and call Water Customer Services to request that a zanjero come back to the gate and manually adjust the flow to the correct level. GateKeeper can manage water delivery with a high level of accuracy and consistency and help reduce the number of customer calls and return trips by the zanjero.
GateKeeper also scores points for sustainability. While many of the 100 or more units currently planned over the next few years will be powered by solar panels, GateKeeper is helping SRP reduce its carbon footprint by saving driving time and gas for zanjeros and reducing the wear and tear on SRP vehicles while also improving safety by lowering the risk of vehicular accidents.
That’s a win-win solution we can all live with.
• Cheryl Zittle is director of SRP’s Water Delivery Services group.