Pluggin the leak
Olympia entrepreneur’s water-saving device a game-changer for gardeners
The WiserWand, the brainchild of Olympia entrepreneur Tom Ryan, is currently in the design phase for commercial distribution. A Kickstarter campaign will launch this month to fund manufacture of the first 500 WiserWands.
Photo courtesy of Tom Ryan
Currently, Americans waste more water than residents of any other country in the world. Every day, we use 9 billion gallons for outdoor landscaping and maintenance – and half of that water is wasted through surface run-off and inefficient irrigation systems.
Those numbers bothered Olympia resident Tom Ryan, a lifelong gardener who spent 33 years in the IT industry. Last May, Ryan resigned his job to devote all his time and energy to developing a business around a water-saving device he invented: the WiserWand. It is a tool that waters plants at their roots, saving water, time and money on monthly bills in the process.
The idea came to him one day when he was using a standard water wand in his garden and he noticed how much of the water ended up in places he wasn’t trying to irrigate.
“I thought, ‘There has to be a better way,’ ” he says. But a subsequent Web search yielded no results, so he decided to solve the problem himself by inventing a solution.
His original prototype was quite large, shaped liked a gardening fork, and included multiple attachments. One of them was a straight scoop, which he quickly discovered was the most effective method.
The first person he shared his invention with is friend and fellow gardener Ken Powell. Originally, Ryan had expected his tool to be used for watering bigger plants like trees and shrubs, but Powell helped him see its versatility.
“I started using it to plant starts and seeds, for collards and kale, and all of my vegetables,” says Powell. “I used it for every aspect of the garden.”
With help from the wand, Powell tripled the size of his garden from the previous year – yet when he compared his well water use in 2016 to the previous year, he’d used less than half the amount, a substantial savings in cost as well as water.
Throughout the summer of 2016, 56 gardeners throughout the Olympia and Lacey area, as well as several out of state, used the wand to water plants, shrubs and trees. They were enthusiastic about the results, which included saving time, money and water and, in several cases, increased their yield of vegetables.
“When I’m watering more established plants like trees and bushes, I can insert the tip deeply into the ground, and while it soaks the roots, I can do other things in the garden simultaneously,” says one of the test gardeners.
Olympia's city Water Conservation Program Coordinator Erin Conine compared the yearly water use of one gardener during the summer months and found a 64 percent reduction during the year he used a WiserWand.
“It was a pretty significant difference,” she says. “Of course, there may be other factors involved, but there were definitely some savings.”
Powell was pleased with how much water could be saved with the tool.
“I don’t waste a drop watering leaves, weeds, mulch or paths and, because the water is directed at the base of the plant. There is no waste due to evaporation or runoff,” he says.
Other gardening testers included a disabled man and several parents of young children, all of whom appreciated how accessible the tool made gardening.
“It’s great for anyone who has a bad back or doesn’t want to lean over too much,” says Ryan. “One of the test users, who is disabled, said this is the best watering method he’s ever found.”
For parents who want to introduce their children to gardening, the WiserWand ensures that they learn about saving water early, he maintains. One user was 6 years old.
Fifty-six gardeners throughout Thurston County
tested the WiserWand over the summer of 2016,
returning enthusiasm about the product's results.
(Photo courtesy Of Tom Ryan)
“He didn’t waste any water, didn’t water any leaves, didn’t squirt his dad, and he had fun,” says Ryan. “If kids grow up watering efficiently, they’ll water efficiently as adults, and so will their children. And within two generations, efficient hand watering products will be the norm. They’ll change the market.”
Ryan is launching a Kickstarter campaign this month to fund manufacture of the first 500 WiserWands. D.A. International Group, a Seattle-based firm that provides assistance with design, manufacturing, importation and fulfillment of projects, is handling the process.
“As an entrepreneur, Tom is the kind of guy we’re looking for,” says Vincent Scotti, D.A.’s vice president of project management. “He’s passionate, he has a well-thought-out product, and we believe he has the wherewithal to see it through to production.”
The company charges a 10 percent margin on the cost of goods, once a product goes into production.
A commercial variation of WiserWand is currently in the design phase. Scotti's firm took the handmade prototype Ryan had created, along with 3D files, to a factory in China, where it’s being tweaked and modified to make it easy to manufacture with minimal defects.
“After the design is complete, we’ll create one sample to make sure it’s what Tom wants, and then do a small production run of 30 to 50 products and set up quality control.” Scotti anticipates being in the production phase within three months.
Ryan plans to donate 25 percent of profits to organizations that promote safe drinking water and sanitation.
“There are 1.2 billion people who don’t have sanitation and 700 million people don’t have fresh, safe drinking water,” he says. “It’s insane.”
Powell sees great potential in the WiserWand.
“In their yards, people set up a sprinkler that runs for an hour, but they could get the same result from two minutes with this tool,” he says. “In places where you wouldn’t traditionally be able to water much, it would have a huge impact because people could grow vegetables where normally, they can’t.”