Good Question: Why water artificial turf football fields? May 09 2014

As the regular season wraps up for many high school football teams, here is a Good Question about what happens on the field when the players aren't there.

"Gulf Coast High School has artificial turf. I recently saw the giant sprinklers activated. Why do they water artificial turf?" –Paul, Naples

Paul's eyes weren't deceiving him. All high schools in Collier County have artificial turf, and they all use irrigation systems.

The athletic director at Gulf Coast High School insisted even artificial turf needs a natural touch.

"We need to water it. Absolutely, we need to water it," said Jose Arias.

We all know grass needs water to grow, but why do green plastic fibers need the wet stuff?

"It helps bring down the temperature of the field," Arias said just minutes before the irrigation system turned on.

I decided to put the temperature theory to the test. Even on an overcast day, the surface temperature measured 99 degrees before getting watered.

Arias said that's minimal compared to really hot days when the field's temperature spikes well over 100 degrees before watering.

After thirty minutes of irrigation time, the field was cooler. I measured 94, a five degree drop, on the thermometer.

"It's well worth watering it once a day," Arias said. "It comes on at 2 o'clock and it goes off at 2:30 before the teams come out to practice."

Synthetic fields absorb more heat than grass. Cooling the surface helps students minimize 'turf burn' when they land.

"This is a much better solution than having natural grass," Arias said.

He said that because grass is more expensive to maintain than turf, but ultimately this comes down to the health of the students.

"That's the number one thing," Arias said. "You have to keep in mind the safety of the kids."

The popularity of artificial turf has spiked in recent years. That's not the case in Lee and Charlotte County where all public schools still have grass fields. Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers does have artificial turf.