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:
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.
As we've entered into wastewater averaging season (November - February), we are all trying to use the least amount of water possible so that our wastewater averages and charges will be lower this next year. So, let's talk toilets as a easy way to reduce the consumption of water inside your home. It involves no behavior changes, you don't have to think about it, it just saves water each time it's used! First though, maybe I should explain wastewater averaging quickly, to make sure we're all on the same page.
Wastewater averaging happens every winter. It's the way the City calculates what you'll be charged on your utility bill for wastewater (or sewer, same thing). The City doesn't have meters on the wastewater lines coming from your property, so we don't know exactly how much waste is leaving and we're treating. We make assumptions based on your water use. During the winter months (November - February), it is assumed that all water used at your property is being used indoors (and goind down the drain--think sinks, toilets, baths, washers, showers). It's winter, the plants go dormant and we've had so much rain, no additional irrigation is needed. Evaporation to pools is minimal. So, this winter water use is the lowest amount of water used all year. Those winter months of water use are averaged and that average is what you're charged for wastewater the remainder of the year. And yes, wastewater does cost more than water. It just takes more time, chemicals, and other treatments to clean it, so the charges are slightly higher for it.
You have a direct impact on your wastewater charges by using less water during the winter months. First, turn off your irrigation system. Easy, done. The next major impact--and my topic today--toilets. Everyone uses one everyday. They account for the largest use of water indoors, using up to 30% of our indoor water use. The less water you flush, the lower your water use will be, and that directly impacts wastewater charges. We've come full-circle now!
Now, the City has had a toilet rebate program, on and off, since 2009. To be eligible for the rebate there are three criteria:
- You must be a direct City of Round Rock water customer. This is because the water conservation program is funded directly by a portion our customer's water charges; MUDs and others not on City water do not contribute to the program and aren't eligible.
- Your house or property must have been built before January 1996. I get asked about that date and here's why it's there: In 1991 the EPA determined that all toilets manufactured and sold in the U.S. must use 1.6 gallons of water per flush (gpf) or less. At that time, all the manufacturers did was fill up the tanks with less water, but kept all the plumbing parts the same. The toilets were terrible and most had to be double-flushed, which is why the bad reputation is still made fun of today in sitcoms. Water usage was actually increasing, rather than decreasing and the manufacturers knew they had to make other changes to the design of the toilets. So, fast-forward a few years to 1995 and efficient toilets were redisgned and now actually flushing the way they were supposed to. The date is there since all toilets manufactured since then were good, working 1.6 gpf toilets.
- The toilet(s) purchased must be WaterSense approved. WaterSense is an EPA program that is basically like Energy Star, but for water use. Items labeled with WaterSense label have been third-party tested for performance and lasting efficiency. When purchasing a product that has the WaterSense logo, you know the product is good and will retain it's water savings for it's life expectancy. The list is continually updated as more products get tested.
So, if you haven't already paricipated in the rebate program, or replaced your pre-1996 toilets, it's time to do it!! The rebate program is ending permanently on December 31, 2013, so there is only a month left to take advantage of the rebate! Why is it ending, you ask? Well, starting January 1, 2014, all toilets sold in Texas must be 1.28 gpf or less, by law. The City isn't keen on providing a rebate on an appliance that is efficient, when that's the only choice available. We'd rather start using the funds for another program.
I had the pleasure of attending the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA) annual conference this past week in Austin. The topics focused on a variety of things--from legislation, to irrigating with rainwater, to storm water control, and using it for a potable water source, just to name a few topics. The conference (and the huge amount of rain recently!) has made me think a lot about how to take greater advantage of rainwater, or really, just collect more water.
Which leads me to a question I was asked by a resident recently that was along the lines of "I feel like I should be collecting rainwater, but don't have any plants to water. Why would I do it?" It's true, rainwater is so much better for your plants than the municipal water supply because of (1.) it's high nitrogen content (the main plant fertilizer--the N part of PKN in the bags of fertilizer purchased at garden stores) and (2.) it's softer water than tapwater. Around here, we have hard water, thanks to all the limestone in the area. These are probably THE main reasons folks collect rainwater.
However, an often overlooked, just as good reason is for (3.) erosion control. You don't have to actually "use" the water collected, but if you could at least slow it down while it's on your property (when falling from the sky); that would aid in reducing the amount of erosion your property is subjected to.
As easy visualization of what I'm talking about is the divots or valleys along the sides of a house where rain pours off the roof and bangs into the ground--typically if there are no gutters. See the picture on the right--it's VERY obvious where the water lands when it runs off the roof. Where does the soil go that used to occupy that space? Well, it gets carried off down into the street, into the storm water system, which flows into our creeks. By the way, this water isn't cleaned or treated, it doesn't go to the waste water plant.
So, if that water can be slowed down, or stopped, that's less soil that will be robbed from your yard each time it rains. You can collect the water in barrels, tanks, converted trash cans, and then release it, slowly, over your yard a few days after the rain event. Slowly is what's key here, ideally we want the water to soak in, not run off. Then the barrel(s) is empty and ready to collect the next rainfall AND you don't have to worry about mosquitos!!
Another way to slow down the water, and not worry with a tank, is with a rain garden. The City of Austin's Watershed Protection Department has some good information about creating your own raingarden. http://www.austintexas.gov/raingardens
Other good reasons for collecting rainwater include:
4. it's free! The water is anyway.
5. Collection tanks, barrels, and other components are tax-exempt and have been since around 2000. See the Texas Water Development Board's website for more details about tax-exemption: http://www.twdb.state.tx.us/innovativewater/rainwater/faq.asp#title-08
and (bonus reason #6.) The City of Round Rock does offer a rebate for water collection. See our website at www.roundrocktexas.gov/waterconservation for the application and details on the rebate.
It's voting season! From reading the signs along the roadways and street corners, we have the ability and duty to vote for our parks, our roads, libraries, fire department, and the well-being and betterment of our town and county!
What I haven't seen yet is a sign promoting voting for our water. Proposition 6 information specifically. Proposition 6 relates to the State Water Plan. You can find more at the Water4Texas website or at the Texas Water Foundation website.
Here's the basics though about what Prop 6 is and what's its purpose is:
- Proposition 6 creates and constitutionally dedicates two new funds: the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT) and State Water Implementation Revenue Fund for Texas (SWIRFT). If the voters approve Proposition 6, the legislature has also authorized a one-time, $2 billion investment from the Economic Stabilization Fund (also known as the Rainy Day Fund) to be deposited into the SWIFT for the support of water supply projects in the state water plan. These funds are designed to make the financing of water projects through bonds more affordable for local entities and ensure that consistent, ongoing state financial assistance is available so that our citizens will have adequate water supplies during drought.
- Texas grows by approximately 1200 people every day, and our state's population is projected to nearly double by 2060. The state's current water supplies cannot suport that growth.
- The funds being invested by Prop 6 will provide low-interest loads for water supply projects. Prop 6 doesn't provide grants--these are loans that must be repaid to the state.
- The recipients of these loans will be limited to political subdivisions of the state, such as towns and cities, to help them implement criticial water supply projects, including water conservation strategies.
- The funds approved by Prop 6 will be loaned from constitutionally-dedicated accounts, which means that the funds can only be used for water supply projects included in our State Water Plan.
- The funds will be managed by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB).
- Prop 6 will not raise taxes.
Please vote this election season, and think about our water supply when voting!
Rain, rain, come and stay! Isn't all this rain wonderful? The plants and flowers in my yard are looking fantastic! And everyone's rainbarrels are overflowing! Driving around town, I see plenty of great looking landscapes. The best part is that we haven't had to water our yards for a few weeks now, thanks to Mother Nature. For those of us with automatic sprinkler systems that may forget to turn them off during rain episodes, I highly encourage you to purchase and install a rain sensor. This will help save some water, save a little money, and certainly, save your image by not allowing your sprinklers to water during or just after a nice rainstorm. I know I've seen many properties doing just that (watering while it's raining)--and it drives me nuts!
Rain sensors prevent an irrigation system from turning on during or after a rain event, after a specified amount (you set this on the sensor) of water has fallen into it. It then allows the system to turn back on and run according to its schedule after it's dried out. A sensor doesn't stop the irrigation system from turning on when a rain storm is predicted, though there is technology out there that does just that. That would be a weather station, that receives weather data several times a day to determine if watering is needed on any day or not. One such sensor like this is called idd; all of the major irrigation manufacturers (Rainbird, Hunter, Toro) have weather-based sensors that can be installed and set to water based more on weather conditions, or soil moisture, rather than just a set schedule. This type of watering schedule is better for the landscape and can be modified to work with restrictions on watering days.
Any type of rain sensor is rebated by the City's Water Conservation program, at 75% of the cost of the sensor. Just submit the rebate application after the sensor is installed. And if you haven't yet turned off your irrigation controller, please go do it!
Learn a little more about rain sensors here:
Well, if you hadn't yet heard, the City is now under mandatory water restrictions! I am personally not a fan of the word "mandatory" as it elicits the repsonse that you now have to do something...in this case water your yard. This is a constant struggle, when to use the "M" word and when not to. Too many times, mandatory water restrictions cause water use to increase in a community or town. That's exactly what we don't want to happen! Folks think that since it's their day to water, they'd better do it, or else it's x many days before they have the opportunity to water again. But, hopefully, common sense will prevail...especially with all the rain this week!
With the cooling temperatures, onset of Autumn, and regular rainfall, twice per week watering is more than enough. Quite frankly, it's too much for many areas like native plants beds and shady turf areas. Of course, hand-watering is permitted at any time for any area that may need some extra help. Properties that use rainwater to irrigate with are exempt from the water restrictions; so that's another good reason to collect and use rainwater!
We have been asked why it has taken Round Rock "so long" to enact mandatory restrictions, which isn't an easy or quick answer. It stems from a variety of factors, with the two main ones being: 1. our Drought Contingency Plan (in Chapter 44) states that the City will enter into Stage 1 when Lake Georgetown reaches a level of 770', currently the lake is at 773', so we still haven't met the first criteria for restrictions; 2. Our overall City monthly water usage has been low this year, much lower than use in 2012 or 2011, or 2009. We've seen monthly usage very similar to 2010, which was a wet year. This means our customers (our residences) have already been using water efficiently at their properties.
So, if you choose to water once the rain has all passed, you may hand-water at any time you choose. Homes with an even address water days are Thursdays and Sundays; homes with an odd-address are Wednesdays and Saturdays. All commercial and multifamily properties days are Tuesdays and Fridays. No irrigation is allowed between 10am - 7pm.
Below is Lake Georgetown, Round Rock's main water source.
One of the most hotly talked about topics when it comes to watering your yard is: When do I water? or another version is: Does it need water? Is the answer "on Wednesday", because that's my day? Or when the plant actually needs it?? You can probably guess the right answer, but it's hard to know when, exactly, the plant needs it. I can help you determine when it doesn't need it.
With the rain showers we've had recently, it may not be necessary to water at all. Knowing how much rain has fallen in your yard helps make the first--and really, most important--decision for you: is it even necessary for me to water today? The rainfall measurements I take at my house don't always match up to the City's collected amounts at the Water Treatment Plant (which aren't too far apart), so I highly encourage you to take your own rainfall measurement.
The rule of thumb is that half an inch of water is enough on a weekly basis for the spring, fall, and parts of summer. Less than that is needed in winter. More, during the heat of summer. So having a rain gauge, any simple one, is the first way to judge if water is needed. All you have to do is check the gauge to see how much rain your house recieved, if close to 1/2-inch or greater, then no watering is needed. Easy!
To help make that even easier for you, the City's Water Conservation Program is giving out free rain gauges like the one pictured. You can pick one up at the Utility Billing Office in City Hall (limit one per address). There's a limited supply, of course, but try to get one if you can.
Now, thanks to Mother Nature's rainfall, you can leave your irrigation system off for about a week for every half inch of rain--depending on the current temperatures. With the current storms and the temperatures in the low 90s, no outdoor watering is necessary for the next week. Enjoy letting nature do the work for you!
I'm very excited to start a new blog for Round Rock's Water Utilities and Environmental Department! I'm Jessica Woods, the City's Water Conservation Program Coordinator and my plan with this blog is to provide timely information regarding the City's water conservation program--what new rebates we are offering, landscaping information, drought updates, water reuse project information, and whatever else seems interesting to me and hopefully to you!
What was a major catalyst for more water outreach is the drought. We (along with the rest of the State) have been experiencing a drought for the last four years (more or less) and have received many questions from our residents about starting a program to encourage folks to remove grass from their yard and install native shrubs and plants instead (like Austin's programs). Well, we haven't created a program like that yet, but we have begun taking a hard look at our own, outdoor water use and are slowly converting the landscapes at the City buildings to native plants and shrubs, smaller turfgrass areas, and more efficient irrigation systems.
One of our major accomplishments so far is the Police Station. The property had two front parking areas and a lot of grass and weeds in the front. Police Chief Tim Ryle was interested in a major landscape overhaul, as the front parking lot was going to be removed. See the before and after pictures of the remodeled Police Department below as proof. It is still a work in progress, but the majority of the landscaping is completed--there are now crushed gravel walking paths, all native plants, trees, and cacti, and three types of turfgrass (Habiturf and two Bermuda varieties). The existing irrigation system was basically junked and new drip irrigation was installed in all the beds. The turfgrass is watered with efficient rotary nozzles. Plant identification markers have been installed to name what the plants are and some interesting features about them.
Part of the parking lot is still under construction; however in the spring it should be looking fantastic! We'd like to hold small landscape and irrigation seminars on-site to take advantage of the beautiful space. Go past and see it for yourself!
Now, I would love to see what changes you have made to your home landscapes to increase the drought tolerance and water efficiency of it! It could be anything from removing turf, to collecting rainwater. I drive around town A LOT during the work day and see many, many gorgeous yards that I do occasionally take pictures of for inspiration. Please, send me pictures of your beautiful, water-smart yard and a little caption about why you changed it, or what you've noticed since changing it. We'll post these on our City Flickr page (in the Native Landscapes set) to give everyone a change to admire your hard work! And, I'd personally love to see what you're doing to get ideas for my own shady yard! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Send me those pics!! :)
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