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.
Smart Irrigation Month, pt 3

So we're still in July and still talking about automatic irrigation systems for Smart Irrigation Month.  It's seems this week summer has hit (again), maybe "for real" this time, so an efficient irrigation system is more important than ever.

I'm going to continue the same topic as last time, which is upgrading your irrigation system when necessary.  We talked about sensors last week.  This week I'd like to focus on sprinkler heads and water pressure.  The type of sprinkler head being used determines several things, like how long to water, where to locate the heads, and also how much water is being emitted and, most importantly, how well that water is being used by your landscape.

There are two main types of sprinkler heads-spray heads and rotor (or rotatory) heads.  Both are usually located unground and pop-up when it's their time to water. 

The spray heads are the ones that water the same piece of grass, or landscaping, the entire time they are popped up.  Rotor heads rotate to the left and right when they pop-up and do not water the same place the entire time they are popped up.  See the pictures on the right for what each look like.

Rotor heads are the more efficient of the two head types.  Tests have shown that the water is distributed more evenly by rotor heads than spray heads.  The same amount of water is being emitted close to the head as midway as at the furthest end of the water.  Usually people want to replace rotors with sprays, but I urge them not to.  Again, they are more efficient than traditional spray heads.  They emit, on average x gallons of water per minute.  Rotor heads are desirable to use in large areas-fewer heads are required to cover a large space since they spray water out a further distance than spray heads.

Traditional spray heads are not quite as efficient, mainly due to variations in water pressure and head spacing (specifically heads placed too far apart).  Misting is pretty commonly seen with spray heads-this is lots of "clouding" coming off the heads.  This cloud, or misting, is water drops that are so small they are just floating away into the air, rather than going down onto the landscape.  (See the picture, all that stuff in the air above the plants is the water droplets from the irrigation system).  You are paying for this water and it's just floating away.  Not good.  This means you have to run the system for a longer time to get water down onto the ground, which will get expensive and is just wasteful.  This is caused by water pressure that is too high.

An aside here, "good" or appropriate water pressure for irrigation systems is between 30-50 psi. 

High pressure can be remedied in two main ways: installing a pressure reducing valve (PRV) on the irrigation system, or replacing the nozzles with ones that adjust or compensate for the high water pressure.  So...which is better?  That's a hard question to give a quick answer for.

The PRV is a good fix if the entire irrigation system is running with high pressure.  It's one device that is installed near the backflow prevention device in your yard.  A licensed irrigator should be contacted to install this device.

Replacing nozzles is a great way to fine-tune the irrigation system; here, you can just replace nozzles in the zones that have the high misting.  This is a little more time consuming because you need to find and purchase the correct nozzle types (full circle, half circle, etc) and then physically unscrew the old nozzles and screw on the new ones, but overall it's pretty inexpensive.  Of course, a licensed irrigator can be hired to do this work as well.  There are several brands of nozzles that have built-in pressure compensation and can be ordered online or found in local irrigation stores.

Both of these types of pressure reducing efficiency qualify for the City's Efficient Irrigation Rebate program.  I highly encourage you to take advantage of it if you notice misting in your irrigation system!

July is Smart Irrigation Month, Pt 2

The first thing I saw when I turned my computer on Friday morning was emails from co-workers and City residents voicing concern about the irrigation systems they saw running this morning-after receiving 3+ inches of rain!  It's crazy, I know.

I don't think anyone deliberately chooses to look silly or be wasteful by watering during or immediately after a huge rainstorm, they just don't actively think about their irrigation system.  For commercial properties, it's bad for their image to look so wasteful, so I would think they'd be the first to jump on the efficient bandwagon and make sure the irrigation is always working as efficiently as possible.  Unfortunately, that's not always the case--and not just with commercial properties.  This brings me to my second topic for Smart Irrigation Month-Upgrading your Irrigation System

Updating, or improving irrigation systems, in my experience, tend to happen mainly when other big yard activities are going on, such as installing a pool or a new patio, or deck; replanting the sod or a huge remodel of all the landscaping in the yard.  I don't really see folks upgrading their systems just because there's a new model of controller, or cool sensor.  While irrigation is technology, apparently it's not the cool technology that people invest in as frequently as their portable, hand-held electronic devices.  I think it's because we don't visually see them or think of them nearly as much as our phones, or portable devices.  They seem to do a good job-the grass is alive, so what's to change?  Well, technology has come a long way in the last decade in irrigation systems, which can save you money in water costs, conserve water, water more to the plant's needs, and maybe have a little cool factor when you talk about your yard with your friends!

I don't want this article to go too long, so I will focus only on sensors today.  Rain sensors are required on all newly installed irrigation systems since January 1, 2009.  Though they have been around many years prior to that, they generally weren't installed very frequently even though they are relatively cheap.    

  • Sensors include rain sensors, freeze sensors, and soil moisture sensors.  All of these are separate devices that are wired into the main irrigation controller, they do not come installed as part of the controller.  Some controllers have a switch on them that says "sensor active" and "sensor bypass", that doesn't mean there is actually a sensor installed on your system.

A rain sensor turns off the irrigation system (if it's running) after a specified amount of water has fallen or it delays the system from turning on after a specified amount of rain-so all of its actions are during or after the rain. There's no weather forecasting, or determination of if watering is necessary. They have to be installed in an unobstructed location (like a fence or roofline) so that rain can fall in it. I've seen them under trees and under buildings! (see the picture for proof).  But, it is better to have a working rain sensor than nothing, as I wish some commercial properties would have this morning! By the way, they're pretty cheap-about $35-$75 retail. 

Tremendous improvements have been made in the soil moisture sensor arena. A soil moisture sensor is actually buried in the ground about 6-inches deep (yes, you have to have that much soil for these to work!). They take moisture readings from the soil to determine if the soil is dry enough to require the irrigation to run; if it determines the soil doesn't require additional water, it doesn't allow the system to run. Ideally, you'd want more than one soil moisture sensor installed in your yard, one in sunny area and one in a shadier area, otherwise parts of your yard may be under- or overwatered. It's more accurate watering than just watering because it's a Saturday. It's watering because the soil actually is dry. They are a little more costly than rain sensors, but they provide a more effective use of water.

Freeze sensors do not allow an irrigation system to turn on when temperatures reach a specific degree, usually around 40° F. These aren't that common to have at homes, because we just turn off our irrigation systems for the winter. Commercial properties tend to water more year-round and would benefit from a freeze sensor to prevent the irrigation from freezing and causing a hazard.

The City's Efficient Irrigation Rebate provides a rebate of 75% of the purchase cost of a sensor for your existing irrigation system, so if you don't currently have a working one, please get one and apply for the rebate!

July is Smart Irrigation Month, pt. 1

July has been deemed "Smart Irrigation Month" by the Irrigation Association since 2005, because that's typically when the hottest temperatures occur.  With high and hot temperatures come higher water use, it's just a given.  We still want our landscapes to look as good as they have the rest of the year, so we crank up the water.

This year, I'd like to challenge you to do something different.  It's been a slightly different year already: we didn't have a 100-degree day until this last week!  We've had regular rainfall all throughout May and June.  We really haven't needed to use the irrigation system until this month.  So, in honor of Smart Irrigation Month, I'm going to write a short series on automatic irrigation systems, in which I'll (1) encourage you, and explain how, to maintain your irrigation system, (2) upgrade it where necessary, and (3) schedule it efficiently and effectively based on your plants, light, and sprinkler head type.

Performing a check of the irrigation system, (aka an Irrigation Evaluation, or Irrigation Audit) is the cornerstone for maintaining the system.  If you are a direct water customer of Round Rock, Water Conservation staff will schedule and do this for you; however, it's simple enough that you could do it yourself-and it's highly recommended to check you system monthly!  I recently found a broken head on my own system that I hadn't noticed or even realized was there.   So, how do we check it?

1. First you need to go to the controller and turn the dial to "test" or "system test" if that option is there (Rainbird controllers have this). If you have this option, great! The number you see in the display are minutes that, once started, will run each station for x minutes and then turn off. A good default number is 2 minutes. After selecting 2 minutes, push the manual start button on the controller to begin the system test.

2. If you DO NOT have the "test" option on your controller, you can simply program one in. Just choose a program that you are not using for your normal watering cycle-probably the C program. You don't need to enter in start times or water days, only watering times; so for each of your stations, enter a runtime of 2 minutes. Then start the program manually.

3. Once the system is running, you are looking for problems, issues like sprinkler heads turned the wrong way and spraying the street, rather than the grass. Or heads that do not pop-up over the grass (that's why there's that dry spot!), or heads that are clogged, and no water is coming out of them. You could also look for leaking heads, broken nozzles, and other leaks. For an idea of what some of this looks like, see my blog "What is Water Waste?" from last month.

a. The simplest, and most worthwhile, thing to fix is misdirected heads; most of them can simply be turned to face the appropriate direction by using your hand to grab the head (essentially the neck) and physically turn it. This prevents water waste, poor coverage, and ensures the water is used, rather than running off the property; all of which are positives for you and your property. 

A big clue that you have misaligned heads and overspray is if you can tell your sprinklers ran--meaning you can see the water on the street, on the driveway, on the sidewalks, on the patios, etc., like this picture to the right!! 

b. Nozzles that are clogged are easily be cleaned out (when the system is turned off!). Unscrew the nozzle, rinse it and the filter off, and screw it back on. You may use an old toothbrush or toothpick to clean out the emitter where the water sprays out of the nozzle, it's pretty small. Once screwed back on, turn the system on to make sure you have put it on facing the correct direction and it's watering what it needs to be.

c. Low heads or heads that do not pop-up over the grass is due to either too tall grass, which is really not a bad thing, usually, or more likely, the heads have settled over time and just sunk into the ground. They need to be replaced with taller heads in order to have better coverage-to get the water out far enough to water what's it's supposed to. You can replace this head yourself with a taller head (they are sold by height in inches, so if you have a 4" head currently, you may increase to a 6"), or depending on the amount of low heads, you may hire a licensed irrigator to do this, as there is a degree of professionalism needed. You don't want the heads sticking up over the grass and become a hazard when the grass is mowed.

So that's the basics of performing a system check!  Do it monthly to physically see how the system is working, that what is supposed to be watered is actually being watered, AND, most importantly, make repairs and adjustments to the system to keep it running efficiently!

Toilet Rebate Program Returns!

I wrote a blog back in November 2013 about the toilet rebate program ending and why it was ending.  In case you missed it, it was due to the State Plumbing Code changes that as of January 1, 2014, mandated that all toilets sold in the State of Texas must use 1.28 gallons of water per flush (gpf) or less.  That's down from the previous requirement of 1.6 gpf, so it's a small savings of water per flush, which can add up significantly depending on the number of people in the house or how many hours per day the house is occupied and the toilets are being used.

The happy news is that I get to announce now, that the efficient toilet rebate program been updated and funded, so it is now available again; you can participate as soon as you're reading this!  The changes are pretty minimal--only the age of the house has changed.  With the new program, the house (or any property) must be built before January 1, 2006.  The reason the date was changed to 2006 is because during the late 1990s and early 2000s the 1.6 gpf toilet was the most efficient toilet on the market, thanks to the previously mentioned laws.  Starting around 2004, 1.28 gpf toilets started making an appearance and have since grown to nearly take over the market.  Homes that were built in the time period of the late 90s - early 2000s can now get a little more efficient with their indoor water use.  That's good! 

Other program details are the same:   

  • Property must be a DIRECT water customer of the City of Round Rock (sorry, no MUD customers);
  • New toilet(s) must be from the EPA's WaterSense list, which are simple to locate in stores or on product packaging by looking for the WaterSense emblem (shown at right);
  • There is no limit on the number of toilets at a residence, simply one for one replacement.
  • Maximum rebate is $100/per toilet.
  • House or Property must be built prior to January 1, 2006.

Find the full details and the application form here or on the City's website on the Water Conservation Rebate page

The "catch", if there has to be one, is that if you've already replaced a toilet (or more) in the previous toilet rebate program, you aren't eligible to replace that same toilet again under this program.  Now let's start replacing those old toilets!   

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.       

         

Water Workshops at Home Depot

April 22 marks Earth Day each year.  This year you can help make your home a little more earth-conscious by attending a free water conservation seminar at Home Depot here in Round Rock. 

Here's an announcement about the event:  On Saturday, April 26, from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m, The Home Depot will host free Water Conservation Workshops at all of its 1,977 U.S. stores. This is a nationwide effort to educate and empower residents across the country to improve water efficiency inside and outside the home.  The announcement of the workshops is one of several measures the company is taking to assist homeowners where many face water restrictions due to current dry conditions.

Workshops will cover water-saving home improvement projects which help conserve the most water, including replacing fixtures with more efficient U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) WaterSense labeled toilets, showerheads, and faucets. Workshops will also include outdoor water-saving options, such as installing drip irrigation, rotary nozzle or dual-spray sprinklers, and WaterSense labeled irrigation controllers.  In 2013, customers of The Home Depot saved 42.5 billion gallons of water through the purchase of WaterSense labeled products. 

 Local community organizations are invited to call their local stores to get involved. Residents are encouraged to attend and learn more about water-efficient solutions they can implement at home. Details and registration information can be found http://workshops.homedepot.com/workshops/home

Summer is Headed Our Way

The temperatures have started creeping up into the 80s consistently now...and the beautiful bluebonnets are everywhere!  It's starting to feel like summer and the City's water use is going up to further confirm that warming feeling.  Folks have started watering their yards, planting grass and gardens and other outdoor landscaping activities, this is the main reason water use is on the rise.

I want to remind you that the City is still under Stage 1 of the Drought Contingency Plan.  The restrictions were made effective back on October 14, 2013 and haven't been rescinded yet.  What this means is that IF you are going to use water outside of your property, mainly watering your yard, this can't happen more than twice per week.  And not during the hours between 10am and 7pm.

Realistically, once per week watering is more than enough currently.  The temperatures haven't been hot enough to evaporate all the moisture to need to water more than once.  We did have a very dry winter--even with "all" the ice, it's been one of the driest winters in at least 5 years (that's how long I've been keeping track of the rainfall).  So, some irrigation may be needed in sunny areas of the yard.  Gardens will need water more frequently to establish them.

Because of the lack of rainfall this winter, the lakes haven't risen either.  This means that the water restrictions will continue for the time being.  If you'd like to hear more about what the current water situation is, come to the City's public library on April 10th at 6:30pm where I'll be giving a presentation regarding the current water situation and predictions for this summer! 

Read the water restriction information with all the details on the City's water page.       

Reminder on Rainbarrel & Compost Bin Sale

Spring is nearly officially here, it happens on March 20th!  I wanted to remind you that the Water Conservation Program is having another rainbarrel sale--which ends on March 31st!  These are the same 50-gallon Ivy barrels and 65-gallon Moby barrels that were sold last year.  You can prepurchase barrels, online at www.rainbarrelprogram.org/centraltexas.  There WILL be some "extra" barrels available for sale the day of the event, however, we cannot hold them or gaurantee the amount we will have--it's first come, first served.  

The pre-ordered barrels will be distributed on Saturday, April 5th from 8:30am until noon at the Southwest Williamson County Park near the Quarry Splash Pad.  For those of you that purchased barrels last April, it's the same place.  This is the County Park just north of the 1431 - Sam Bass Road/FM 175 intersection.  It's the one with the train.

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.  You must be a 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 compost bins though.

One thing that is a little different than last year is that compost bins will be available for purchase too.  Find out more at the same www.rainbarrelprogram.org/centraltexas link.  They will be distributed during the same event.  A picture of them is below. 

There is no limit--except your space and $$--to how many barrels you can purchase; and if you are looking for something larger than 65-gallons, you can certainly purchase tanks from another vendor and apply for the rebate.  I have a list of mostly local vendors that sell tanks on the Rainwater Page of the website.

I hope to see you at the park on April 5th!

  

 

 

Irrigation Workshop

Do you have an irrigation system, but don’t quite know how to use it effectively?  Or at all??  Do you have an irrigation system and would like to learn how to make simple repairs, fixes, and upgrades to it yourself?  If the answer is yes to any of the above questions, I’d like to invite you to the free irrigation workshop that the City of Round Rock Water Conservation program and Williamson County Master Gardeners are having on Saturday, March 22 at the Williamson County Extension Office at 3151 SE Inner Loop, in Georgetown.

The outdoor event will be comprised of 5 stations that will demonstrate various aspects of an irrigation system’s workings.  You can visit them all, or just the ones that interest you.

Come learn:

  • How water pressure determines how far the water will spray out of the sprinkler head, and how coverage is affected by too high or too low water pressure; learn how you can adjust the water pressure to be "just right!"
  • How to use your controller, you know, the box that turns it on and off.  Learn how to set it, make adjustments, and do more than just turn it on.
  • How to make simple repairs; there are plenty of things you can do yourself on your irrigation system.  Learn how to replace broken or leaking heads, clean out nozzles, adjust misdirected heads…it’s easy!  You can watch the video below to learn how to clean out clogged nozzles now.
  • How an irrigation system works: view the system above ground, learn what all the components are that are involved with turning the system on and off and allowing water to flow through the pipes.
  • What drip irrigation is and how to utilize it in your landscape.  See how drip is a more efficient way to water certain plants and make some conversions from spray heads to drip.

There will also be folks on-hand to talk about water supply and conservation programs in the area.  So, come join us on Saturday, March 22, between 9am – 12pm at the Williamson County Extension Office.  It’s going on rain or shine.  No need to stay the entire time, come and go as you please.


Springtime Sprinkler Check

The beautiful weekends have made me ready for Spring!  The weekend weather has been perfect to get a little yard work done, but then it's freezing again!  When spring cleaning the yard by adding new mulch, trimming back frozen plants, and installing some color, those of us with automatic sprinker systems need to think about prepping it for spring as well.

For most of us, our irrigation systems haven't been used since October or November--unless it came on and caused a frozen wonderland like the pictures to the right!  That's good that it's been off.  Before simply turning it on to run the last program it was running in the fall, it should be visually checked out to ensure that all is working well with it.  I'm talking about setting a test program on your controller and visually inspecting the system to ensure that it's working the way you expect it to, so that when you do start using it more frequently you won't be surprised by high water bills, dying landscapes, or spotty coverage.

Since the inspection doesn't need to take too long, again, it's just a visual, you're going to run the sprinkler system on the test program, or program in your own test program, for only 1 or 2 minutes per station.  When you turn it on to run manually you are looking for problems like:

  • sprinkler heads that aren't popping up--maybe grass grew over the head,
  • heads that are turned the wrong way and are spraying areas they shouldn't be (i.e. driveways, the street, the house, the fence, cactus, into your neighbors yard); they just need to be physically turned to point the correct way;
  • leaking heads--these should be replaced;
  • heads that are covered by shrubs (sidenote: plants continue to grow after sprinklers are orginally installed, so heads may not spray what they are "supposed" to if the shrub has grown up and covered the head completely); it's time to trim the shrub or move the head;
  • areas of low water presssure--this could indicate a leak in the water line, or a broken head and may require additional time to inspect or calling a licensed irrigator to check it out; and
  • heads that DO pop-up, but no water comes out--that's a clogged head and just needs to be cleaned out.    

While the system is running, you can make notes of where the problems are to address once you've run through all the stations, or try to fix them while the system's running.  I recommend a water resistant jacket for that, or warmer weather and a swimsuit!  Once you've adjusted the heads and make what fixes are needed, you are good to go in running the system through fully, knowing it will be efficient and effective in watering your landscape.  That's good!

Remember, when setting your controller for the spring, it's best to start slow; watering once per week or less is plenty for this time for year and the City is still under Stage I water restrictions. 

Watch our latest video on how to set up a test program for your controller:

 

Rainbarrel Sale!

The Water Conservation Program is having another rainbarrel sale!  These are the same 50-gallon Ivy barrels and 65-gallon Moby barrels that were sold last year.  You can start prepurchasing barrels now, online at www.rainbarrelprogram.org/centraltexas    

The pre-ordered barrels will be distributed on Saturday, April 5th from 8:30am until noon at the Southwest Williamson County Park near the Quarry Splash Pad.  For those of you that purchased barrels last April, it's the same place.  This is the County Park just north of the 1431 - Sam Bass Road/FM 175 intersection.  It's the one with the train.

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.  You must be a 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 compost bins though.

One thing that is a little different than last year is that compost bins will be available for purchase too.  Find out more at the same www.rainbarrelprogram.org/centraltexas link.  They will be distributed during the same event.  A picture of them is below. 

There is no limit--except your space and $$--to how many barrels you can purchase; and if you are looking for something larger than 65-gallons, you can certainly purchase tanks from another vendor and apply for the rebate.  I have a list of mostly local vendors that sell tanks on the Rainwater Page of the website.

I hope to see you at the park on April 5th!

Leave the Leaves

The leaves have been falling from some of the trees for a few months now, although my trees like to wait until March to drop leaves, darn live oaks!  Raking is usually a job I reserve for the kids, as I'm not a huge fan of doing it.  I'd much rather just mulch them up and leave them on the yard than raking and picking them up.  My kids would rather take a cue from Snoopy!

I know, leaves don't sound like a water conservation issue, but they are--and also a water pollution concern.  One of my colleagues in the City's Stormwater group and I were talking about the leaf blowers...folks that just blow their leaves down the storm drain or in the street and what a nuisance that is; not only the noise, but the actual blowing the leaves down the storm drain.  In most cases, those drains lead to ponds and creeks.  No storm drains go to the wastewater treatment plants.  The leaves clogging up the water ways then can block out the sunlight in our waterways, which has negative effects on our aquatic life and aquatic plants.  Little or no sunlight means plants and animals don't get light, no photosynthesis for plants to live, no food for animals.  The added nutrients from the leaves also can act as poison to the plants and animals, too much fertilizer in the water isn't a good thing. 

The leaves in the storm drains can also clog up the actual drains themselves and prevent stormwater (rain) from entering the storm drain, causing flooding, since the water can't go down the drain as it's designed to.  Keeping stormdrains clear is one way to help prevent flooding.      

Of course, you've heard that leaves are a great source of nutrients for your yard and it's really best to mulch them, ideally, with a mulching mower.  They can also be raked up and put in shrub beds, around trees, or piled up to start a compost pile, letting them degrade on their own over time.  The City's Drop-Off Recycling Center at 310 Deepwood Dr also takes your bagged leaves and creates mulch, which is free to City water customers to come and pick up for their use.  Leaf mulch is a great way to keep water loss to a minimum around your trees and beds; a nice layer of mulch also prevents weeds from growing in these same areas.  

The picture to the right is basically what the leaf compost piles look like at my house.  I have a wire cage that I simply fill up with leaves each year.  Rain keeps it wet (this year, anyway!), which helps speed up the composting process.  Allowing air to circulate in the pile helps speed it up too--so turning the pile occasionally helps, or stirring it up.  With no action or input from you, it will take about 2 years for the pile to decompose. 

There are several online resources that talk about the benefits of mulching and ways to manage your leaves:

 

Shower Smarter

I can't believe that December is almost over!  I just realized that it's been a month since I wrote my last blog...time flies!  Well, as you know, it's winter time, which means it is waste water averaging (WWA) time for the water utility.  I talked about WWA during my article relating to toilets. To keep with the bathroom theme, I am moving onto showers--showerheads specifically.

Showers are similar to toilets, in that they are used daily and account for about 17% of our daily indoor water use.  Also, like toilets, they are regulated by national and state codes regarding how much water they can use; for showers, it's rated as gallons of water per minute (gpm), versus toilets, which is gallons per flush (gpf).  Currently, the EPA requires that any and all showerheads sold must use no more than 2.5 gpm.   This has been the law since 2010 and there are plenty of showerheads on the market that use less than this.

I know, low-flow showerheads just don't sound appealing.  I always think of that old Seinfeld episode where low-flow showerheads are being introduced in Jerry's apartment building and Kramer is purchasing black-market, elephant washing showerheads that knocks him out of the shower and starts doing everything in there-food preparation, washing dishes...it makes me laugh!  And cringe. 

The thing is, showerheads aren't really "low-flow," as in low-pressure.  Although they use less water, they simply use the same water pressure that your house currently has; they don't change the water pressure.  Us water nerds prefer to call the fixtures "efficient" showerheads, or "water-conserving" showerheads.  Sounds much better than "low-flow"!  

I'll admit, I've had my doubts too.  The heads I've installed at my house use 1.50 gpm, and honestly, I was skeptical about them and put off installing them for a while.  Finally, for the sake of research and water efficiency, I installed them and was pleasantly surprised--they worked great and have plenty of pressure and water!  And, if you are considering a bathroom remodel that includes multiple showerheads in the same shower, just remember that that doubles or triples the amount of water that is being used per minute, while multiple heads are in use (2.5 x number of heads = total gpm).

If your home is new, you probably already have efficient fixtures.  You can check for yourself just by reading the fine print on the showerhead.  See the picture below.  Where the red arrow is pointing is where showerheads typically have printed what their gpm is.  The one below says 1.75 gpm max--meaning the most it's going to emit is 1.75 gallons per minute. 

 

So, this winter while you are fixing leaks, replacing toilets, and otherwise making your home water efficient to get the lowest WWA possible, think about replacing your showerheads too.  The City is giving away free 1.75 gpm showerheads at the water billing office, while supplies last, or purchase a model of your choosing at any store that sells showerheads or plumbing fixtures.  Don't forget to look for the WaterSense label, those have been tested and approved as good quality, water saving devices.

  Find out more about efficient showerheads at EPA's WaterSense site.



Best Seat in the House

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:

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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.         

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