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.
Fall is Here--You Can Water Less!

Fall AsterNow that we're officially into Fall and we've been enjoying the cooler temperatures; it's time to reduce the watering times on your irrigation controllers.  With less evaporation occurring, the landscape doesn't need to be watered as often as during the summer months.  My general rule of thumb is: cut watering in half during Fall and Spring

Since we are still in water restrictions (no more than twice per week watering), the easiest and maybe best way to achieve this is simply turning off one of your watering days.  Now simply water once per week, but keep all of the minutes the same.

In case you missed the blog I wrote back in early August about irrigation scheduling, I want to repeat some of that same information.  You can find the full blog here.  Basically, it's about how to determine how many minutes to set the various zones for.

The main idea is that there are 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.  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.  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.American Beautyberry

Head Type

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.
  • 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.
  • 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

Plant Material

Landscape (read: living plant) material is the last component of the irrigation scheduling trifecta.  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. 

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.   So, turn those stations off completely and just water when they look stressed (i.e. droopy leaves, limbs first thing in the morning). 

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 few 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 schedule I follow, when irrigation is necessary during the Fall (October, maybe November) months:

Plant Exposure Type of Sprinkler Head Days Runtime (minutes)
St. Augustine

sun

spray

as needed, max. 1x/wk

10 to 15

   

rotor

as needed, max. 1x/wk

15 to 20

 

shade

spray

rarely, 1x per 2 wks

15

   

rotor

rarely, 1x per 2 wks

20

Bermudagrass

sun

spray

rarely, 1x per 2 wks

15

   

rotor

rarely, 1x per 2 wks

20

 

shade

spray

rarely, 1x per 2 wks

10

   

rotor

rarely, 1x per 2 wks

20

Zoysia japonica (wide blade zoysia, El Toro, JaMur, Palisades)

sun

spray

as needed, max. 1x/wk

10 to 15

   

rotor

as needed, max. 1x/wk

20

 

shade

spray

rarely, 1x per 2 wks

15

   

rotor

rarely, 1x per 2 wks

20

Buffalograss

sun

spray

rarely, 1x per 2 wks

10 to 15

   

rotor

rarely, 1x per 2 wks

20

 

shade

spray

rarely, 1x per 2 wks

15

   

rotor

rarely, 1x per 2 wks

20

Common shrubs

sun

spray

rarely, 1x per 2 wks

10 to 15

   

rotor

rarely, 1x per 2 wks

20

 

shade

spray

rarely, 1x per 2 wks

15

   

rotor

rarely, 1x per 2 wks

20

Common groundcovers

sun

spray

rarely, 1x per 2 wks

10-15

   

rotor

rarely, 1x per 2 wks

20

 

shade

spray

rarely, 1x per 2 wks

15

   

rotor

rarely, 1x per 2 wks

20

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Catch the rain before it's gone!

Once again, the huge amount of rains in the last weeks have made me think a lot about how to take more advantage of rainwater, or really, just collect more.

Which leads me to a question I was asked once that was along the lines of "I feel like I should be collecting rainwater, but don't have any plants to water. Why should I do it?" It's true, rainwater is so much better for your plants than the municipal water supply (it's generally higher in nitrogen and it's softer water), which probably is THE main reason people collect it. However, an often overlooked, just as good reason is for erosion control. You don't have to actually "use" the water collected, but if you could at least slow it down on your property; that would aid in reducing the amount of erosion your property is subjected to.

An easy visualization of this is the divots or valleys along the sides of a house where the rain pours off the roof and bangs into the ground-typically if you don't have 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 wastewater 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 and then just release it, slowly, over your yard a few days after the rain event. Then the barrel(s) is empty and ready to collect the next rain event and you don't have any worries about mosquitos!

Two more good reasons for collecting rainwater include:

1. It's free and 2. Tax-exempt! The water falling from the sky is free, and the purchase of collection containers has been tax-exempt in Texas since 2001.

To assist you with collecting this precious resource, the City of Round Rock has a rebate for installing water collection tanks or barrels. (This rebate is available for direct City of Round Rock water customers only.)  Round Rock is also having a rainbarrel sale that is going on currently until November 9, 2014:

Three sizes of rain barrels are being offered:

  • 50-gallon Spring Saver, 6 color choices, $64.99 (top picture)
  • 54-gallon Rain Saver, 3 color choices, $84.99 (bottom picture)
  • Classic 100-gallon, 28 colors, $208.65
  • Also water diverter kits for $15.99 or $21

The barrels will be distributed on Friday, November 14th and Saturday, November 15th at the Dell Diamond NE parking lot.  This is located behind the Prosperity Bank.  To order barrels, go to http://www.cityrainbarrelprogram.org/  You do not have to be a City of Round Rock water customer or resident to purchase any of these products.  There is no limit to how many you can purchase.

All the details to both of these City programs can be found at www.roundrocktexas.gov/waterconservation

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

 

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.


More Posts Next page »