Though it didn’t make the news, the sprinkler scandal of Vitacura rocked out little world.
Our home has a high wall around it. The wall creates an inner courtyard containing a patio, lawn, pool, and driveway. Outside the wall, there’s still property belonging to this home, and there are strips of grass, bushes and trees. There’s an underground sprinkler system installed to water the grass and bushes inside and outside the wall.
I’ve noticed the sprinkler heads in the ground. They are old, dirty, and I assumed would not work. I had never seen the sprinklers on, inside or outside.
That changed a few days ago.
The doorbell at the gate rang.
I answered the door and found a man with a notepad standing at the gate. He looked perturbed, and he started speaking in Spanish.
I didn’t catch much of it, but I caught the word “agua” and “conservacion”.
I stepped onto the sidewalk with the man, and he pointed to the sprinklers. The external sprinklers had inexplicably turned on, and water streamed down the sidewalk. The sprinklers heads were also aimed improperly, shooting water across the sidewalk. A person could not walk on the sidewalk without getting soaked. Note: many people walk past our house at all times.
The man kept speaking in Spanish, and I told him it wasn’t my house and I would try to “cerrado el agua.” The closest thing I could think to say to “I’ll close the water.” This caused the man to grab his head and plod away.
I closed the gate and began searching for a way to turn off the water. Knowing sprinklers are controlled by an electrical panel, I searched all over for it. Couldn’t find it. I began hitting switch after switch through the house, but couldn’t find a way to kill the power to the sprinklers, hopeful to shut off the water. I turned off every breaker to the house, and still the water kept streaming. This was confusing as I thought valves would close if powered down.
I gave up, figuring the water turned on by itself, so it would likely turn off by itself. A timer had probably been set and I had never noticed since the sprinklers were outside the house.
I went back to work on some task.
A while later, the doorbell rang.
A woman stood at the door, agitated the water streamed off the lawn, down the sidewalk, and into the gutters.
I explained to her the same situation, and she left in disbelief and dismay that the water kept running and running.
I was now determined to fix it. I started following sprinkler water pipes and electric conduits in the ground and along the fence, attempting to trace them back to the source. No luck. I had concluded that the water and electrical conduits seemed to have no clear organization or structure. It can now picture the house and the property are a heaping pile of wires and pipes, crisscrossing and intersection as the house and systems have been expanded over the years.
It was getting closer to the evening now. I asked Katie to contact our landlord to tell us how to turn off the water.
After dinner, ding dong. A different woman was at the door to complain about the water. She’s more amped up than the others.
I explain the situation and graciously bow as I close the gate in her face.
Now I really need to get this water stopped. I figured the next gate visitor would be the Vitacura police, since water conservation is a big deal around here.
I figured out how to turn off the water to the entire house and the sprinklers. The valve was in the vines along the gate. Reaching into the ivy caused a shiver, as I was sure a tarantula would fall onto my hand.
Great. The sprinklers were off, but now all the water in the house was off, so no toilets, sinks, or showers. I quickly realized the dishwasher was running, and without water flowing through the system, I’m certain the heating element would overheat and melt plastic in the dishwasher. This was an unacceptable risk, so I turned the water (and the sprinklers on the street) back on.
But now I had a clue on how the water was getting to the sprinklers, and I followed the water to a mysterious steel box in the yard. I pried away this metal box, which was caked in place by mud and dirt from years of never having been moved. Inside of the box, a spaghetti bowl of electrical wires hooked up to different branches of the sprinkler system. These were the controls, but there was no interface, only hundreds of thin black wires. Clearly one of these wires had shorted, causing the electronic valve to open so water flowed through the sprinkler.
I spotted a tiny shut off valve inside of this mess of wires, and the valve shut off water to the sprinklers on the street. I could now sleep easy, and the Vitacura sprinkler scandal of 2022 was brought to a close.