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NMSU advises Rio Rancho High School on subsurface, drip-irrigation system for soccer fields

RIO RANCHO - The new soccer complex at Rio Rancho High School is a field of dreams. It is not just the culmination of six years of work by the soccer booster club, but it's the state's first large-scale demonstration of an efficient way to irrigate, which is almost magical because there are no sprinkler heads.

NMSU Extension turf and grass specialist Bernd Leinauer, center, and Rio Rancho soccer booster president Vernon Payne, right, show Bernalillo County Extension horticulturalist Joran Viers, left, a piece of a drip line that is being used in the state's first subsurface irrigation system at Rio Rancho High School's new 6.2-acre soccer complex visible behind the men. (NMSU photo by Jane Moorman)

With the technical advice from New Mexico State University's Extension turf and grass specialist Bernd Leinauer, the Rio Rancho School District and the soccer booster clubs, the arid landscape behind the school was leveled and a 6.2-acre soccer complex was built that accommodates two soccer fields and a practice field, all of which are watered via a subsurface, drip-irrigation system.

"We have had a lot of inquires about using a subsurface irrigation system as a means of watering more efficiently than overhead sprinklers where the wind blows the water away from the desired areas and there is a lot of evaporation," Leinauer said. "Rio Rancho is the first to actually install the system."

The soccer complex is watered through a one-foot-by-one-foot grid of irrigation lines buried six inches below the field's surface.

"The great thing about this system is there are no sprinkler heads to impede play," said John Shepard, Rio Rancho head soccer coach. "And we can water even when the fields are in use, which is a plus when you have as many teams as we have using the complex."

"There are two manufacturers of this type of system, Toro and Netafim" said Leinauer. "Rio Rancho Schools selected the Netafim system, which was also used on the fields at the Greece Olympics."

The irrigation lines have pressure-compensating emitters that release one litter, or four-tenths of a gallon of water per hour, once the irrigation system has 15 pounds per square inch of water pressure in the line.

The system is watering hybrid seeded Riviera Bermuda grass that was developed by the University of Oklahoma. Leinauer says this hybrid is similar to the Princess 77, which was developed by NMSU but is more cold tolerant.

"Bermuda grass is ideal for soccer fields because it can be mowed very short; it takes the abuse of foot traffic in the summer and recovers better. And if it is maintained properly, it provides a very dense uniform surface. The Riviera hybrid is a better choice for use in Rio Rancho because its tolerance to cold temperatures allows it to stay greener longer into the fall," he said of the grass that is also being used on the University of New Mexico's soccer fields.

The Rio Rancho soccer fields will see its first action on Saturday, Aug. 8, during the alumni weekend activities beginning with an opening ceremony at 9 a.m. An alumni tournament will begin at 9:30 a.m. with games played every 90 minutes from then on.

"In my opinion, the people who deserve to be on the fields first are those that started this school's program and helped make this dream field become a reality," said Shepard.