Licensing for irrigation contractors, yea or nay? Admittedly, it’s a complicated issue and one that generates strong emotional responses from the owners of landscape service businesses.

Let’s start by agreeing that unskilled and unqualified irrigators can and often do great damage to the landscapes that they service and sometimes to the structures — driveways, sidewalks, home foundations, etc. — on these properties, the primary justification for licensing. Often referred to as lowballers, “job gypsies” also damage the industry’s image, not to mention its ability to charge a “fair” price for services performed through shoddy workmanship and poorly performing materials.

Lawmakers that implement licensing and the beauracrats that administer it, insist it helps protect consumers and, ultimately, protects the welfare of responsible companies that design and service landscape irrigation systems.

While laudable, how effective is licensing in accomplishing these goals? It’s safe to say that very few if any service providers feel they need more government hoops through which to jump. Ultimately, however, it’s what professional contractors see and experience in the field that colors their views of licensing, especially since licensing is another cost for them. (New Jersey contractors must pay a $300 initial certification fee, plus a $150 examination fee, according to New Jersey EPA website.)

Is it being enforced fairly and openly in the field? Does it really make a difference in weeding out the dishonest, unfit and careless, under-the-radar operators? Is it helping to protect the integrity of the industry in consumers’ eyes?

According to the Irrigation Association (IA), four states require a license for landscape irrigators: Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina and Texas. Five others — California, Connecticut, Oregon, Illinois and Rhode Island — require a license that is not solely specific to irrigation but has provisions that govern irrigation contraction. Florida offers a voluntary license that exempts a licensed individual from local irrigation contractor licenses. Your city or county may require licensing, so it’s always a good idea to check there, as well, before launching into landscape irrigation.