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.

August 2014 - Posts

Rain Barrel Sale Going on Now

The City's Water Conservation Program is having a rain barrel sale!  The barrels being sold are being supplied from a different company than the last sales.  These barrels are made in Austin, so a little more local.  Available for this event are three different sizes (capacity) of barrels and a rainspout diverter.  The pre-sale is open now for barrels to be purchased online at cityrainbarrelprogram.org

Barrel Descriptions:

  • The 50-gallon Springsaver barrel has a compact design with a flat back, to nestle up close to the side of your house. It's available in 6 color choices and being sold for $64.99.  See the picture on the top right.
  • The 54-gallon Rainsaver barrel looks like a traditional barrel and is available in 3 color choices. It's being sold for $84.99.  Pictured in the middle.
  • The Classic 100-gallon barrel is lined on its interior to prevent mold and algae growth. They are available in 28 colors and being sold for $208.65.  Pictured at the bottom right. 
  • The Downspout Diverter system allows you to divert water from your gutter downspouts without have to cutoff the downspout. Two different models are available at $15.99 and $21.00.  These aren't pictured here.

The ordered barrels and diverters will be distributed on Friday, November 14th and Saturday, November 15th at the Northeast parking lot of the Dell Diamond (this is the parking area behind the bank).   

Barrels purchased at this event ARE eligible for the City's rainwater rebate.  There will be applications for the rebate provided on the distribution date, or you can get it online.  You must be a direct City of Round Rock water customer in order to receive the rebate.  You do not have to be a City water customer in order to purchase the barrels or downspout diverters though.

There is no limit to how many barrels you can purchase, or what combination of barrel sizes or colors you purchase.  To order or for specific questions regarding the barrel specifications, visit the program website at cityrainbarrelprogram.org

I'm compelled to remind you that rainwater is the best choice for watering plants with, as it's full of nutrients the plants can use better than treated, tap water; the main one being nitrogen.  Think of how green and lush everything looks after a good downpour! 

I hope to see you at the Dell Diamond in November!

Do I Have a Water Leak?

During the hottest parts of the year the phone calls increase with concerns from people asking if they have a water leak, or maybe their neighbor is using their water to fill up their pool.  There's just no way they had used that much water this past month.  Or the meter reader must have read the meter wrong!  Or the meter is just wrong, or the water lines are crossed because the neighbor waters every day and I don't and my bill is higher... I think I've heard it all!  Rarely do we find anything more than leaks or an irrigation system that is using more water than the homeowner realizes.  Nothing too exciting in the grand scheme of things.

If you think you may have a water leak, then there are simple steps you can take to figure out if you have one, before calling a plumber.  The first thing to do is to locate your water meter.  It is outside, typically near the front property line on one of the sides of your house, near the sidewalk.  The box is rectangular and either has a metal lid or black plastic lid.  If you can, open it up.  Inside the meter box are typically two water meters.  I keep saying usually, because there are always exceptions!  Anyway, your meter is closer to your house, and the other meter is your neighbor's. 

Looking at the face of the meter, there is a hand that sweeps around the face, much like the hands of a clock.  When that hand moves one time around the face that means 10 gallons have been used, or have gone through the meter.  If the hand is moving when you open up the meter, then that means water is currently going through the meter and is being used at your property.  When no water to your knowledge is on at your house, that hand should be perfectly still.

There's also a small star- or triangle-shaped feature on the face that we commonly call the "leak detector."  It moves when we often can't see the hand moving, because it's a little more sensitive to lower flow water.  If this is perfectly still too, then good, no leak.  If it's moving, then again, something is using water.  You can see the difference between water meters brands in the pictures--one has a triangle leak detector, the other has a silver center star piece.

There is also numbers on the face of the meter, like an odometer in a vehicle.  This is the number that gets read every month to calculate how many gallons have gone through the meter.  At the end of the day, before going to bed, you can write down these numbers.  In the morning, before water is used at the house, go read the numbers again.  If they are the same, great, no leak.  If they have changed, then water has been used on the property.  To find out how much water was used, subtract the morning number from the night number.  The answer you get is the gallons that were used.  (i.e.  the meter read 58673 in the morning and 55492 at night.  So 58673 - 55492 = 3181 gallons were used overnight!)  Oh yes, that's right, my irrigation system went off; that's how much water it used. 

Watch our latest video to see how to perform this meter check yourself.  Good luck!

Smart Irrigation Month, part 4

While it's technically NOT Smart Irrigation Month any more, I wanted to make sure I got this last part of the series out to you, it's probably the most important of the bunch.  I'm referring to efficient scheduling of the irrigation system, based on the amount of sunlight in your yard, the sprinkler head type, and to a lesser degree, the plant types in your yard.

These three items require some consideration when entering in how many minutes you are setting each station for-there's no point in having specialized heads, a shady yard, and native plants if everything is going to run for 20 minutes no matter what it is.  Unfortunately, I see that happen a lot.  Then folks wonder why areas are brown or plants are dying.  (There's also the consideration of soil type and soil depth; we're not going to get into that here, but it certainly does play a huge role in irrigation amounts.) 

Amount of Light

It may seem obvious, but I'm going to come out and say it anyway-shady areas require less water than sunny areas.  If you have good tree coverage and areas of the yard receive less than 6 hours of direct sunlight daily, that's considered a shady yard.  The narrow, sides of our houses qualify for this designation.  Full sun areas are areas that need more water, usually; this is dependent on what the plant type is here.   So, when entering time into your controller, you know that the times should be higher for the sunny spots and lower for the shady ones.

Head Type

As I've talked about in an earlier blog, there are two main sprinkler head types-rotor and spray.  There is also drip irrigation, which technically has no head at all!  Rotor heads, if you remember, rotate, so they are not watering the same area the entire time they are running, therefore, they need to run for a longer period of time than spray heads.  The minimum I typically recommend running them for is 15 minutes, and that's in a shady area.  Usually between 25-35 minutes is a good time for sunnier areas with turfgrass.

Since spray heads are stationary, they pop-up and stay watering the same spot the entire time, they can run for a shorter amount of time than rotors.  I usually recommend between 6 -15 minutes for those stations, depending on the plant material and amount of sunlight, with the 15 minutes being for areas in full sun and turfgrass.

Drip irrigation is different.  Drip typically emits water very slowly, very minimally, so it oftentimes needs to run for longer periods-30 minutes at minimum or much longer in many cases.  I caution you to know how many gallons per minute your drip is using before you just set it for an hour.  I've seen drip that was using 20 gallons per minute, which is just as much as "traditional" spray zones!  Unfortunately it cased very high water usage at the property before it was discovered.

Plant Material

Landscape material is the last component of the irrigation scheduling trifecta.  Landscape could include turfgrass, trees, shrubs, groundcovers, perennials, annuals, natural areas (like tree motts), bare ground, rocks, and I'm sure many other things.  It may be obvious as well, but it does need to be said-areas with no vegetation really don't need to be watered.  The bare ground will just be muddy.  Same goes for rocky paths, they don't grow.  Mulched areas don't grow.  Driveways, sidewalks, patios, and decks don't grow.  Pools don't need to be filled by the sprinklers (I've seen plenty of sprinkler heads spraying directly into pools!).  Trees have usually been growing there longer than you've lived there, so they typically don't need the extra water. 

Native plants, established shrubs, or other established perennials do not, I repeat, do not need the same amount of water as the grass.  That's why you've planted them-they are native!  They are made for our climate and weather conditions.  They will survive without being irrigated twice per week.  I can't count how many times I see native plants being watered more than the grass.  It's counter intuitive to the reason for using natives.  So, turn those stations off completely and just water when they look completely stressed out. 

I like to recommend that people put the stations that are shrubs or plants on a different program than the grass stations and set them to water once every other week (if needed; if there's been no rain).  If you want to keep the shrub stations on the same program as the rest of the yard, simply turn down the time.  I recommended between 6-8 minutes regardless of if it's sun or shade.  They really just don't need it. Many natives do best in dry, hot conditions and die with too wet soil.

Turfgrass is a little tricky too.  A lot of Bermuda grass gets planted here, yet is watered just as much as any other grass (namely, St Augustine).  What I said about native plants is true about Bermuda too, you're growing it because it's drought tolerant: it doesn't need to be watered as much.  Bermuda grass that's overwatered tends to get a lot of weeds growing in it.  If you have Bermuda, I recommend cutting back the watering time to once per week.  Let it perform.  Yes, Bermuda goes dormant in times of drought, but it's not dead.  It will green up when it rains or receives irrigation.  It looks better with rainwater though.  Also, Bermuda is not going to survive in shady areas, it will thin out and eventually all die.  It requires full sun to really thrive.

St Augustine grass has such a bad reputation as a water hog, but I don't buy into it.  It's not setting the controller, the yard owners are!  St Augustine does great in areas with partial sun or partial shade.  I've seen it look really good in full sun too, with less water than you may think.  It will also thin out in full shade areas, but does better than most grasses.  Ideally, St Augustine should be kept at 3-4" tall when it's being cut to keep the soil from drying out.  I water my St Augustine yard with rotor heads for 20 minutes and it's looking great.

You may have picked up that there's no exact time that works for every station or even every yard!  Irrigation systems unfortunately aren't just a turn it on and forget it.  It will take a little tweaking to determine how many minutes the yard will perform well on, and it may need to be changed every year as the trees grow and give out more shade.     

Here's a watering Summer (June - September) schedule I follow, when irrigation is necessary, setting my controller for two water start times (i.e. 2:15am and 4:15am)

Plant Exposure Type of Head Days Runtime (min)
St. Augustine sun spray Every 5-7 days  10 - 15
    rotor Every 5-7 days 15 - 30
  shade spray Every 5-7 days  8 - 10
    rotor Every 5-7 days 15 - 20
Bermudagrass sun spray Every 5-7 days 10
    rotor Every 5-7 days 20
  shade spray Every 5-7 days 8
    rotor Every 5-7 days 15 - 20
Zoysia japonica (wide blade zoysia, El Toro, JaMur, Palisades) sun spray Every 5-7 days  10 - 15
    rotor Every 5-7 days 20
  shade spray Every 5-7 days 10
    rotor Every 5-7 days 20
Buffalograss sun spray 1x per 2 wks 10
    rotor 1x per 2 wks 20
  shade spray 1x per 2 wks 8
    rotor 1x per 2 wks 15
Common shrubs sun spray 1x per 2 wks 10
    rotor 1x per 2 wks 20
  shade spray 1x per 2 wks 8
    rotor 1x per 2 wks 15
Common groundcovers sun spray 1x per 2 wks 10
    rotor 1x per 2 wks 20
  shade spray 1x per 2 wks 8
    rotor 1x per 2 wks 15