From October 2016 through March 2017 – just six months – the city of Seattle accumulated 44.67 inches of rain. Meanwhile, in Harlingen, Texas the annual average rainfall is just 27.5 inches. So it’s no wonder that when you do a search for companies that install and repair sprinkler systems, there are actually more in South Texas.
“It’s a competitive business,” said Leticia Duarte, who is part-owner of Duarte and Daughters in Edinburg, along with her husband Alfonso and daughters. “And when construction is slow, it’s even more competitive.”
Duarte and her family moved from McFarland, Calif., in 1998 to Edinburg. Her sisters lived here, marrying Valley men. Then her parents said they were going to move to the Valley from California to be near the sisters and closer to Monterrey, where more family lived. “When we arrived, it was difficult for Alfonso to find work,” Leticia said. “He wanted to start his own business and in California, we were farm laborers and used to working outdoors. We didn’t mind continuing to do that.”
They started Duarte Sprinklers, which now has become Duarte and Daughters. “At the time there was a lot of construction going on and he saw there was a need for sprinkler system installers. I went to school to get licensed and he does the work.”
Likewise, Melvin Espinoza saw a demand that wasn’t being met while he was working for another sprinkler company. “I had my license and was looking at the business and decided just to go on my own,” said the owner of Rio Sprinkler Systems in Donna. “That’s why I’m here 25 years later. I had to make a change. The kids were growing up and I wanted to give something better for my family.”
Espinoza said there were about eight other sprinkler companies in the Valley at that time. It wasn’t too much later when more and more people opened their own businesses as they saw major construction continuing all across South Texas. Rio Sprinkler Systems services and installs systems from Roma to Brownsville. Espinoza even had a call once to go to Houston to install a system.
“A friend of a friend said some good things about me and one day I just got a call,” he said. “They flew me up there and a couple days later I gave them the estimate and they hired us. We drove up there with the team, and worked for three days.” The only difference in Houston, Espinoza added, was that they had to purchase thicker pipes. Cold temperatures can freeze thicker pipelines and cause damage.
Like in many industries, technological advances have made sprinkler systems easier to use. Wi-Fi lets homeowners turn their systems on and off from just about anywhere. The systems are also more efficient, as installers can determine how much pressure is involved and set up the sprinklers so an exact amount of water is used at each sprinkler head. Other efficiencies include a gauge that the homeowner or farmer can set based on the amount of rain. For example, if the gauge is set at a half inch and it doesn’t rain that much, the system turns on. If it rains more than that, the system remains off.
But the most important thing that both Espinoza and Duarte recommended for homeowners – make sure the company that is hired is fully licensed, especially when it comes to backflow. The backflow keeps the water that comes out of the system, with any fertilizer that may also be included, from going back into the drinking water. Each city has different ordinances for backflow and each company must renew their license every three years. “You have to get 24 hours of classes or training to renew each license you have,” Espinoza said. “It’s continuing education.”
Both owners said that making the move to owning their own business and seeing the opportunity has been a positive experience. “We come from humble beginnings,” Leticia said. “And Alfonso has always worked hard. He wanted to do something that was good for our family. Now we are all involved in it and we are blessed.”
Espinoza echoed the sentiments. “I will continue to make this my way of living as long as I have my health, putting in systems and serving other people.”
July 2017 cover story by Henry Miller.