As we've entered into wastewater averaging season (November - February), we are all trying to use the least amount of water possible so that our wastewater averages and charges will be lower this next year. So, let's talk toilets as a easy way to reduce the consumption of water inside your home. It involves no behavior changes, you don't have to think about it, it just saves water each time it's used! First though, maybe I should explain wastewater averaging quickly, to make sure we're all on the same page.
Wastewater averaging happens every winter. It's the way the City calculates what you'll be charged on your utility bill for wastewater (or sewer, same thing). The City doesn't have meters on the wastewater lines coming from your property, so we don't know exactly how much waste is leaving and we're treating. We make assumptions based on your water use. During the winter months (November - February), it is assumed that all water used at your property is being used indoors (and goind down the drain--think sinks, toilets, baths, washers, showers). It's winter, the plants go dormant and we've had so much rain, no additional irrigation is needed. Evaporation to pools is minimal. So, this winter water use is the lowest amount of water used all year. Those winter months of water use are averaged and that average is what you're charged for wastewater the remainder of the year. And yes, wastewater does cost more than water. It just takes more time, chemicals, and other treatments to clean it, so the charges are slightly higher for it.
You have a direct impact on your wastewater charges by using less water during the winter months. First, turn off your irrigation system. Easy, done. The next major impact--and my topic today--toilets. Everyone uses one everyday. They account for the largest use of water indoors, using up to 30% of our indoor water use. The less water you flush, the lower your water use will be, and that directly impacts wastewater charges. We've come full-circle now!
Now, the City has had a toilet rebate program, on and off, since 2009. To be eligible for the rebate there are three criteria:
- You must be a direct City of Round Rock water customer. This is because the water conservation program is funded directly by a portion our customer's water charges; MUDs and others not on City water do not contribute to the program and aren't eligible.
- Your house or property must have been built before January 1996. I get asked about that date and here's why it's there: In 1991 the EPA determined that all toilets manufactured and sold in the U.S. must use 1.6 gallons of water per flush (gpf) or less. At that time, all the manufacturers did was fill up the tanks with less water, but kept all the plumbing parts the same. The toilets were terrible and most had to be double-flushed, which is why the bad reputation is still made fun of today in sitcoms. Water usage was actually increasing, rather than decreasing and the manufacturers knew they had to make other changes to the design of the toilets. So, fast-forward a few years to 1995 and efficient toilets were redisgned and now actually flushing the way they were supposed to. The date is there since all toilets manufactured since then were good, working 1.6 gpf toilets.
- The toilet(s) purchased must be WaterSense approved. WaterSense is an EPA program that is basically like Energy Star, but for water use. Items labeled with WaterSense label have been third-party tested for performance and lasting efficiency. When purchasing a product that has the WaterSense logo, you know the product is good and will retain it's water savings for it's life expectancy. The list is continually updated as more products get tested.
So, if you haven't already paricipated in the rebate program, or replaced your pre-1996 toilets, it's time to do it!! The rebate program is ending permanently on December 31, 2013, so there is only a month left to take advantage of the rebate! Why is it ending, you ask? Well, starting January 1, 2014, all toilets sold in Texas must be 1.28 gpf or less, by law. The City isn't keen on providing a rebate on an appliance that is efficient, when that's the only choice available. We'd rather start using the funds for another program.
I had the pleasure of attending the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA) annual conference this past week in Austin. The topics focused on a variety of things--from legislation, to irrigating with rainwater, to storm water control, and using it for a potable water source, just to name a few topics. The conference (and the huge amount of rain recently!) has made me think a lot about how to take greater advantage of rainwater, or really, just collect more water.
Which leads me to a question I was asked by a resident recently that was along the lines of "I feel like I should be collecting rainwater, but don't have any plants to water. Why would I do it?" It's true, rainwater is so much better for your plants than the municipal water supply because of (1.) it's high nitrogen content (the main plant fertilizer--the N part of PKN in the bags of fertilizer purchased at garden stores) and (2.) it's softer water than tapwater. Around here, we have hard water, thanks to all the limestone in the area. These are probably THE main reasons folks collect rainwater.
However, an often overlooked, just as good reason is for (3.) erosion control. You don't have to actually "use" the water collected, but if you could at least slow it down while it's on your property (when falling from the sky); that would aid in reducing the amount of erosion your property is subjected to.
As easy visualization of what I'm talking about is the divots or valleys along the sides of a house where rain pours off the roof and bangs into the ground--typically if there are no gutters. See the picture on the right--it's VERY obvious where the water lands when it runs off the roof. Where does the soil go that used to occupy that space? Well, it gets carried off down into the street, into the storm water system, which flows into our creeks. By the way, this water isn't cleaned or treated, it doesn't go to the waste water plant.
So, if that water can be slowed down, or stopped, that's less soil that will be robbed from your yard each time it rains. You can collect the water in barrels, tanks, converted trash cans, and then release it, slowly, over your yard a few days after the rain event. Slowly is what's key here, ideally we want the water to soak in, not run off. Then the barrel(s) is empty and ready to collect the next rainfall AND you don't have to worry about mosquitos!!
Another way to slow down the water, and not worry with a tank, is with a rain garden. The City of Austin's Watershed Protection Department has some good information about creating your own raingarden. http://www.austintexas.gov/raingardens
Other good reasons for collecting rainwater include:
4. it's free! The water is anyway.
5. Collection tanks, barrels, and other components are tax-exempt and have been since around 2000. See the Texas Water Development Board's website for more details about tax-exemption: http://www.twdb.state.tx.us/innovativewater/rainwater/faq.asp#title-08
and (bonus reason #6.) The City of Round Rock does offer a rebate for water collection. See our website at www.roundrocktexas.gov/waterconservation for the application and details on the rebate.