The Water Spot

The City's water conservation program coordinator will write about interesting information relating to City water projects, water reuse projects, water conservation program and rebates, drought information and timely news regarding water use within Round Rock.

May 2014 - Posts

Sooo...What is Water Waste?

Are you are aware of by now, the City has been in Stage 1 of our Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) since October 2013.  We're still in them, still Stage 1.  At the beginning of the month, we started increasing enforcement of the restrictions and water waste by putting some signage around town, leaving door-hangers on homes where we've seen non-compliance, and sending postcards out to others regarding problems with water waste, watering on the wrong day, and other things.  So, it's easy to understand what day you can water your yard on, and it's very easy to figure out not to water during the heat of the day...but what is water waste?

To put it simply, water waste is just that--wasted water.  Water that isn't used for any purpose, it just flows or leaves a property without any benefit to that property.  There are several things we look for specifically when talking about water waste: broken or leaking heads or valves, runoff, water ponding in a gutter or parking area or street, overspray, and misting.  Let's look at each of them up close.

  • Broken or Leaking heads or valves--this really could be more generalized to include anything broken or leaking water that can be fixed.  Broken sprinkler heads are what people typically think of as huge water wasters, but it's really not the case.  Sure, they do use a little more water each minute the system is running with the broken head, it's really the leaks that are leaking constantly that add up to thousands of gallons of water overtime.  This could also include the leaky faucet on the outside of the house.  The picture at the top right shows a broken head--it's spraying water straight up into the air rather than low, like the other heads.  There's also high pressure here, a broken head may not always spray up that high.  In the second picture, there's a leaking head that has been leaking for so long there's algae growing on the sidewalk!  Not good.  This leak is running 24/7 so is wasting a lot more water than the broken head. 
  • Water running off property--the same leak as mentioned above can be used again.  Runoff is just like it sounds, it's water running off the property.  The water from that leaking sprinkler head is running (flowing) down the street for at least 50 feet into the intersection of the next street.  Really, if you're watering your yard, you want the water to stay on your yard, right?  If water is running off, it means you're watering too long and the soil can't absorb all the water so you need to reduce how long the sprinkler is running; if you have a sloped yard and the angle is causing the water to run off, same thing, reduce the runtimes and water it multiple times (i.e. run it for 5 minutes once an hour at 3am, 4am, 5am so it would water for a total of 15 min.). If a sprinkler head is turned the wrong way and spraying more onto a hard surface (driveway, sidewalk, street) rather than the yard, that causes runoff too.  The head just needs to be adjusted to spray the grass.  All can be easily fixed.
  • Water ponding--This is wasteful, water just sitting in a parking lot or street gutter, or sidewalk that is just going to evaporate.  It's caused by the same things that cause the runoff, above, and can also be a hazard due to the algae growth of standing water--people could slip and fall on it, bikes going across it could also slip or become unsteady. The standing water can also erode the pavement and break down the streets quicker than with normal wear and tear, causing added costs to the City to repair or replace them.
  • Overspray--this is an easy one.  It's simply water that is over spraying the grass and landing in the street, or other impervious surface.  The nozzle can be adjusted to reduce how far the water sprays out by turning the little screw on the top of the sprinkler head clockwise.  The water that is landing in the street or sidewalk leads to runoff and ponding.  In the picture below, the overspray is evident by the wet pavement.  The sprinkler heads are behind the shrubs and spraying way out onto the sidewalk.  
  • Misting--this is caused by too high water pressure.  It's a waste of water because most of the water is simply floating off into the atmosphere, rather than going down onto your yard.  The water droplets are so small, due to the force (the water pressure) pushing them out of the sprinkler nozzle, that the wind then carries them off.  The water droplets need to be larger, heavy, to fall down onto your yard.  Ideally, the sprinkler psi should be between 30-50psi.  If you have high pressure and misting, it can be reduced by installing new sprinkler nozzles with built in pressure regulation or installing a pressure reducing device on the entire system.  The City's efficient irrigation rebate covers both of these ways to control high pressure.  In the picture below, the misting is the cloud-like appearance of the water spraying out of the sprinkler head.  It shouldn't be like that, when the sprinkler is running, you should be able to see the individual water drops. 

So you can see that a lot of these problems are related and often times caused by each other.  It's easy to fix them with some simple adjusting of sprinkler heads or runtimes (minutes) in most cases. I ask you to make those changes and help save some water and some money!

  

At the Car Wash

That song always makes me smile---and think of that fish movie with one of the characters working at a car wash, Will Smith is the voice but I'm blanking out on the movie name.  Anyway, on to topic!  Car washing is one thing I get calls about a lot while in water restrictions.  In the City's Drought Ordinance, there is a section on vehicle washing--what day it's permitted on, what kinds of vehicles are permitted to be washed, charity car washes...maybe you're wondering, what's the big deal with washing a car?  Most people don't let the water run the entire time the car is being washed, so it's not completely a water use issue.  It's also a water quality issue.

The majority of the answer really lies with WHERE the car wash is taking place.  Some places are definitely better then others in terms of protecting our water.  A commercial car washing facility, whether that's the drive-thru bays that you wash it yourself with the spray gun, or the full-service wash facilities are the best places to wash your car.  Why? you ask. 

Well, let's start with washing a car at home.  It's typically just soaped up, washed, and rinsed off in the driveway.  Where does all the water (and soap and dirt) go that's rinsed off the vehicle?  Down the driveway, down the street, down the gutter and into the storm drain.  But...where does the water (or other things) go when it goes down that hole in the side of the street?  If you've read my blog on leaves, then you know the answer!  It goes out to our creeks and water ways, NOT to the waste water treatment facility.  Not to any other place that cleans that water before it hits nature.  So, all the suds, dirt, grease, oil, or cleaning chemicals are going to our creeks.  This can be harmful to plants and animals that live in these areas, but it's also a pollutant to our water.

A way to prevent this--if you're a die-hard car washer at home--is to pull the car up onto the grass in your yard to wash it.  I remember my mom doing this all this time growing up, and honestly don't remember watering the grass much, if ever.  By washing the car on the grass you are watering your yard!  And the chemicals and soaps get filtered out of the water naturally by using the grass and soil; as the water and what's in it, moves down through the soil, the dirty stuff get filtered out, while the water keeps moving down.  It's a win-win for you, the water quality, and your yard.

So what do commercial car wash facilities have that we don't have at home?  They have big tanks under the ground (which our yard is a substitute for) that collects the water that was used while your vehicle is being washed.  That's where the water goes when it goes down the holes in bay there (see the blue arrow at right).  The dirty water is collected and filtered and then either released into the City's waste water system, so that it can go to the waste water treatment plant to be cleaned up.  Or in the cases of newer car washes, the water is captured, cleaned up, and reused again.

This is important--this is why commercial car washes are allowed to continue business during drought restrictions.  They are reusing water, and they are helping protect the waterways by sending water to the waste water plant, rather than the storm sewer.

They don't actually use as much water as the perception is either.  An efficient automatic, drive-thru type of car wash facility uses around 30-50 gallons per vehicle.  That's less than some clothes washers use!  Studies show that at home, we use around 100 gallons to wash one car. 

So, please use the best judgment when it comes to keeping your car clean and protecting our water.