Masuen Consulting is an outdoor water management, system design, and consulting firm based in Newport, Washington, that works primarily with clients in the urban irrigation and storm water management fields. By updating clients’ technology and helping them operate their irrigation systems more efficiently, Masuen is able to reduce their water use by an average of 50 percent. In this interview, Masuen Consulting President Mitchel Andrew Walker tells us about the company’s services and the results it can achieve for its clients.
Mitchel Andrew Walker: I went to Humboldt State University in Northern California and did a double major in zoology and wildlife biology, although I did not finish the degree in wildlife biology. I was one course short when I was accepted into veterinary school at the University of California, Davis, and I decided to go to vet school instead of finishing that second degree. After 1 year of vet school, I was introduced to an interesting opportunity and decided to withdraw from vet school and go into business. Today, I work with Masuen Consulting.
Municipal Water Leader: Please tell us about the company.
Mitchel Andrew Walker: Masuen Consulting has been around since 1995. Its precursor was a design-build construction company, which was the business I initially joined. I sold it in 1995 and went into Masuen Consulting full time. Today, we have 14 employees. We focus on outdoor water management, primarily in the irrigation and storm water management fields, with irrigation as our primary focus. Our three irrigation segments are urban, golf, and agriculture. We look for mindsets and approaches that are not standard in the industry and allow us to save a lot of water. Our customers are landscape architects, civil engineers, government agencies, water purveyors, developers, homeowners’ and property owners’ associations, corporate campuses, farmers, ranchers, golf courses, and sports complexes.
Municipal Water Leader: How many states are you active in?
Mitchel Andrew Walker: We have people in Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Texas, and Washington, and we have worked in more than 20 states.
Municipal Water Leader: What is the story behind the company’s name?
Mitchel Andrew Walker: It’s my wife’s maiden name. When I started this company, it was called Walker Design and Consulting. My wife, meanwhile, had a horticultural consulting business. We eventually decided that it made more sense to marry them. When we married them, we kept her name.
Municipal Water Leader: What are some of the out-of-the-box solutions that you provide to your clients?
Mitchel Andrew Walker: The industry as a whole, in my opinion, is supply driven. If the demand for water increases, another dam or water treatment plant is built. Infrastructure is the go-to solution for increasing water supply. Our mindset, by contrast, is to start with how much a client actually needs to accomplish what it wants to accomplish. We have a demand focus with a conservation lens. When my wife and I started the company 40 years ago, we found that most people thought the solution to their problems was just to get more water. We found that there was a better solution that allowed clients to save about 50 percent of what the industry uses while still meeting their needs. We meet or exceed that 50 percent figure in most of our projects.
Municipal Water Leader: How do you reduce your clients’ water use so significantly?
Mitchel Andrew Walker: We use water conserving technology, including efficient irrigation nozzles, sprinkler heads with check valves and pressure regulation, and central control that allows for efficient management. However, it’s mainly a mindset approach. We save most of that water just by putting people in place who really know how to manage and monitor sites and projects with a conservation mindset. We’ve done a few internal studies that show that even if you install the most efficient, state-of-the-art technology at a site and improve its operational efficiency by 40–60 percent, after 1–2 years, its operational efficiency will go back to what it was before because of the way it’s maintained and managed. We take those sites over and just manage them better, saving an average of 50 percent of the water.
Municipal Water Leader: So your business provides irrigation management services?
Mitchel Andrew Walker: Yes. We actually have three departments: irrigation design, technical and field consulting, and water management.
Municipal Water Leader: What is a good example of one of your urban projects?
Mitchel Andrew Walker: We have a reuse conversion project for the Cinco Master Municipal Utility District (MUD) near Houston. The MUD supplies water and sewer services to Cinco Ranch, a 5,300‑acre master-planned community. The MUD board realized that with the way state laws and subsidence requirements were moving, it needed to find alternative ways to reduce its water footprint. The first idea was reuse. The MUD had apparently been searching unsuccessfully for many years for a company that understood how to calculate landscape water need. It found us in 2010 and hired us, and we implemented the project. We converted 25–30 percent of all its common-area irrigation from potable water to reuse water, thus reducing water use in Cinco Ranch by about 50 percent and lowering water costs.
Municipal Water Leader: Is your company managing that project on a day-to-day basis today?
Mitchel Andrew Walker: We do daily water management for some projects, but not for that one. We came up with a specification manual that detailed what needed to be done, how to design irrigation, how to install components, and what concepts to use. We put it on the Cinco Master MUD website and made it part of the MUD’s controlling document. All new projects have to follow that spec. We also oversaw the retrofit of the common-area irrigation from potable to reuse water and made sure that everything was compliant with state code and our spec management manual. Cinco Ranch still uses the same landscape and irrigation maintenance people to manage things. We did a lot of training for those folks as well; in fact, that’s an ongoing process. We have monthly meetings with a committee of area landscape irrigation stakeholders in which we help train them in a process called usage caps. Every month, we do an analysis of the irrigated area, the plant type, the soil type, and the irrigation delivery methodology and report how much water they should use in a month, based on the weather patterns. If they use more than that, we ask them to justify it. If they use less or the same amount, we pat them on the back. It’s a system of checks and balances. We use scientific principles to make sure they’re using water wisely. In this particular job, others are doing the day-to-day management, and Masuen is doing month-to-month oversight.
Municipal Water Leader: What is your message to municipalities, particularly in the West, that are concerned about reducing their water footprints?
Mitchel Andrew Walker: I think the starting point is that there is a 98 percent chance that they are overusing irrigation water. They are likely using 25–60 percent more than they need to. The real question is, how do you change that paradigm? That’s where we excel. We approach the question from the demand side rather than the supply side, and we’ve done enough research and projects to prove to clients that our methodology works. Water and money are being wasted, but they can be saved if you change the way you look at things, and we can help you do that.
Municipal Water Leader: What trends do you see in the industry?
Mitchel Andrew Walker: Reuse is definitely a trend. Some states, such as Florida and California, which we’ve been in for more than 30 years, have been doing reuse quite heavily throughout most of that time. Other states, such as Texas, are now getting into it.
There is also more awareness of the need to conserve water. One thing that my wife and I have chatted about many times is that when we first started this business, we were looked at like we had three heads when we met with potential clients. We had to spend a lot of time, energy, and effort convincing people of the need to look at things differently and the importance of conserving water. We don’t spend a lot of time convincing people of the need anymore; the difficult part is now figuring out how to do it.