Year: 2014

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 mosquitoes!

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
  • 54-gallon Rain Saver, 3 color choices, $84.99
  • 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  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

Feeling listless?

Which of these is the wrong answer to a reference question?

A.  You’re kidding, right?
B.  Sorry, no can do.
C.  Ummmmm….
D.  All of the above

I did use “C” recently–following up, thankfully, with useful information.

A customer I’d assisted weeks ago with “readalike” suggestions (he’d finished everything by his favorite author) forgot to bring the list I prepared for him.  His kids were waiting downstairs, he was in a hurry, so could I just quickly remember those names and give him another copy?


Of course I came up with another list–but not off the top of my head or exactly like the previous one.    And my lack of eidetic memory isn’t the only reason.

Readalikes are, like snowflakes, numerous and ephemeral.    “What to read next” authors I’ve used successfully for years get supplanted when I discover newer, more appropriate ones.   The best lists derive from multiple sources, and the exact combination is difficult to remember.  Also, (as anyone who’s consulted Goodreads, Novelist, or other reading troves knows) it’s possible to unearth so many potential choices that great matches become lost in the pile.

And success isn’t guaranteed.  Because readers bring as much to the enjoyment of a book as writers do,  the best reading comparisons–like Ebenezer Scrooge’s spirits–occur unbidden and in their own good time.

That’s what happened with two stellar new novels I read over the weekend; they effortlessly conjured similarly wonderful novels ideal for future list-giving:

In Laird Hunt’s Neverhome, “Ash”– a young Indiana wife who enlists to fight for the Union in the Civil War–relates heart-wrenching adventures vividly, in artless rural rhetoric with surprising eloquence.  Hunt’s wonderful prose lends major impact to this small volume.

Stephen Crane’s battlefield setting and notable imagery in The Red Badge of Courage naturally came to mind, as did Cold Mountain‘s palpable sense of home-seeking.  A favorite Jane Smiley book, The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton, memorably chronicles another woman in disguise, this time before the Civil War.   DeAnne Blanton and Lauren Cook’s nonfiction They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War would be a great pre- or post-Neverhome  choice.  And some of Ash’s more desperate moments recalled from Amanda Coplin’s The Orchardist  the near-feral behavior of other young women cornered by circumstances.

The intriguing story-within-a-story device in Emily St. John Mandel’s dystopian Station Eleven brings to mind Margaret Atwood’s excellent The Blind Assassin.  As in Walter Miller’s classic A Canticle for Leibowitz, Mandel’s characters are driven to fashion archives of their lost worlds.  Fans of the similarly post-apocalyptic World Made By Hand books by James Howard Kunstler will appreciate Mandel’s depiction of “new world” resourcefulness and self-governance dilemmas.    The pace of calamity in Station Eleven contrasts with the incremental demise of Earth in Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles, yet both authors achieve a movingly elegiac sense of dawning sorrow for the years ahead.

Next time someone asks me to recommend a great read, I’ll think of Neverhome and Station Eleven.  And, once you’ve read them, you’ll be thinking how very foolish it would be to ever depart from home without sturdy flat shoes, antibiotics, and a sackful of batteries.

That’s the spirit

This happened before Youtube and smartphones; otherwise the moment would have inevitably been shared: we’re among a summertime gaggle of tourists entering the Alamo–pausing inside the threshold to consider worn, hand-fashioned walls scarred by history.  A visitor farther back in line surveys the first sign he sees, taking offense at the polite directive: “Are you kidding me?  Who says I have to take my hat off?  Whaddaya think this is–a shrine or something?”

I wonder if the thermostat registered that chill in the atmosphere as eyes collectively narrowed and dozens of hatless heads swiveled in his direction. 

On a lighter note, a non-Texan friend, respectful but whimsical, couldn’t resist the observation that Travis missed a strategic opportunity–he could have posted a sentry on the roof of the Crockett Hotel….

The Crockett did provide a (non-military) solution when my daughter’s birthday came around this year. Having changed jobs in the past year, she’d had no chance of a vacation in many months; I proposed a micro-vacation/overnight getaway.  San Antonio’s museums, Riverwalk, and a re-visit to the Alamo were her choice. 

The ghost tour was a lucky last-minute add-on.  Shepherded by a young lady attired in a hoop skirt and equipped with an iPad (to display historic photos), about twenty ticketholders met in Alamo Plaza to stroll through downtown, pausing from time to time to admire facades and be regaled with tales imparting equal amounts of history and hauntings.  The phantom chambermaid at the Menger Hotel, the swimming pool constructed from old hospital operating tables at the Emily Morgan Hotel, gory hangings and interred ashes at the Holiday Inn Express (former Bexar County Jail), reported apparitions at San Fernando Cathedral and more–all were recounted charmingly as though they’d been just discovered by our guide, not rehearsed nightly.  Paper ghosts

We didn’t follow up on photo-snapping opportunities; somehow, pursuing digital capture of phantom images seemed unfair.   But the structured meander through the quiet streets, graced by illuminated horse-drawn carriages and the rapt attention of fellow tourists, was delightful.  Besides, ghost stories are a wonderful introduction to any city; they invite one to focus s exploration on sites and past events that promise a personal connection.

Our library offers Haunted Texas Vacations: the Complete Ghostly Guide and similar books about the region’s ghost legends.  I even momentarily wondered if we should borrow the ghost tour concept for the library.  (It would certainly address the ever-present Library Concern:  “How can we demonstrate the library’s uniqueness–what we offer that sets us apart?”)

First drawback: no library ghosts (that we know of).  Sure, we could jazz up the unexplained phenomena:  “And now, ladies and gentlemen, did you know that library books sometimes leave the library and are never seen again?  And here–behold!– a microfilm printer that (pause to widen eyes and gesture dramatically) sometimes switches off for no apparent reason!”

I know.  The tour idea needs (a) paranormal activity and (b) professional help.   Who we gonna call?

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.

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.
  • The 54-gallon Rainsaver barrel looks like a traditional barrel and is available in 3 color choices. It’s being sold for $84.99.
  • 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.
  • 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

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 thereWater meter register 200px 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.

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



Travel essentials: cheese, diamonds, someone to watch your back

At the Reference Desk, fear of disappointing our customers should we not possess (or can’t for some reason retrieve) the information they seek is ever present.  But last Friday a library patron was let down when I did know something.

Appreciating the wonderfully illustrated article received via email, the customer printed an extra copy for me.  One glance at the image of sun rays glinting off jeweled fragments strewn on the beach prompted me to exclaim, “Ooooh, sea glass!”  The existence of wave-worn discards beautified over the years was meant to be the revelation–but I’d read about it in Anita Shreve’s novel concerning a young married couple titled (you guessed it) Sea Glass.

That setting was on the East Coast, so I hastened to own my ignorance of Glass Beach in MacKerricher State Park, information which is valuable since (a) any fact in a librarian’s repertoire can be handily applied at some point and (b) next time I’m in California, I want to go there.

Set in the 1920s, Sea Glass is classified “historical fiction”, the genre to which I would devote 100% of my reading if book group, reviewing, and collection development responsibilities didn’t (beneficially) intervene.  Not only does historical background supply plots of the sort that “truth is stranger than”, period settings enable the reader to effortlessly assimilate flavor and relevance of times past.  This is a multitasking genre, enlightening as it entertains.

From Amy Brill’s The Movement of Stars, based on Maria Mitchell, America’s first professional female astronomer, I learned about the King of Denmark’s medal–Frederick VI’s prize to the claimant of the first discovery of a new telescopic comet.  Paul Robertson’s An Elegant Solution, inspired by a notable family of 18th-century mathematicians, considers the prestige of academic chairs within Basel’s university community–positions so esteemed as to instigate Machiavellian strategies to attain them.  In The People in the Trees, Hanya Yanagihara depicts the insidious downward career spiral of a Nobel Prize winner whose character was loosely modeled after an actual Nobel Laureate.

Visiting Asheville, North Carolina, recently, I was startled into recalling another based-on-fact fictional gem (Lee Smith’s Guests on Earth) as the “historical trolley tour” driver’s practiced spiel referenced Highland Hospital, scene of Zelda Fitzgerald’s death in a fire.

My latest read (848 pages, one weekend) unabashedly overlays historical fiction with time travels and fantasy.  Eighth in Diana Gabaldon’s addictive Outlander series, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood (Gabaldon calls it MOBY) furthers the century-hopping saga of Claire and Jamie Fraser–devoted, great-looking, and endlessly adaptable–along with their expanding, marvelously diverse extended family.  I never tire of Claire’s resourcefulness in reconciling 20th-century knowledge with present circumstances (in the 1700s, she applies a Roquefort cheese mixture to her own serious wound, thereby administering penicillin).

Not usually fond of fantasy novels, I am captivated by Gabaldon’s (I’m oversimplifying) formula: circled standing stones + faceted gems = time travel–for predisposed individuals.  Watching my little Scottish terrier obsessively inspect the cluster of boulders adorning our backyard, I note her utilitarian ID collar: no sparkles, no rhinestones whatsoever–which is fortunate. The Frasers have enough worries already.

Smart Irrigation Month, Pt 4: Scheduling

SmartIrrMonthWhile 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 typesrotor 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)

PlantExposureType of HeadDaysRuntime (min)
St. AugustinesunsprayEvery 5-7 days 10 – 15
  rotorEvery 5-7 days15 – 30
 shadesprayEvery 5-7 days 8 – 10
  rotorEvery 5-7 days15 – 20
BermudagrasssunsprayEvery 5-7 days10
  rotorEvery 5-7 days20
 shadesprayEvery 5-7 days8
  rotorEvery 5-7 days15 – 20
Zoysia japonica (wide blade zoysia, El Toro, JaMur, Palisades)sunsprayEvery 5-7 days 10 – 15
  rotorEvery 5-7 days20
 shadesprayEvery 5-7 days10
  rotorEvery 5-7 days20
Buffalograsssunspray1x per 2 wks10
  rotor1x per 2 wks20
 shadespray1x per 2 wks8
  rotor1x per 2 wks15
Common shrubssunspray1x per 2 wks10
  rotor1x per 2 wks20
 shadespray1x per 2 wks8
  rotor1x per 2 wks15
Common groundcoverssunspray1x per 2 wks10
  rotor1x per 2 wks20
 shadespray1x per 2 wks8
  rotor1x per 2 wks15

How to be a novel employee

We’re sometimes asked whether folks who apply for City of Round Rock jobs are required to live here.  No–and that’s a good thing.  Employees who reside elsewhere can share insights from those municipalities experienced from the customer point of view.  As one of the resident CORR employees who, in a way, work for ourselves-paying City taxes that fund our salaries–I can report that we already have a varied perspective. 

As a librarian, I would love to order every promising new book in all available formats–print, large print, audio CD, Playaway, ebook, digital audio, but the taxpayer in me vetoes the approach as budgetary folly (also, we’re out of shelving space).  And that nifty art database that my librarian persona would so enjoy?  Not a cost-effective acquisition for a limited audience, says Taxpayer Me.  

So the two of us especially appreciate endeavors like the Farm to Work program: City employees can purchase baskets of organic produce delivered to a convenient pick-up location each week.  We pay a reasonable charge and enjoy having an instant selection of
in-season fruits and vegetables.   Employee Me appreciates the freshness and one-stop shopping; Taxpayer Me applauds the notion that we City staffers will eat better, enhance our well-being, and trim health care costs. Organic produce

As employer review websites like Glassdoor, Indeed,  Jobitorial, and CareerBliss demonstrate, not all workplace initiatives anywhere merit in-house approval.   Readers may, however, find it difficult to commiserate when a reviewer’s biggest complaint is his/her company’s failure to furnish all-day free snacks and meals, spa treatments, or pet-sitting, as some firms do.  If CORR were to offer staff free lunches and breakfasts every day, I’d be torn-tempted to queue up for some of it, while my taxpayer persona took notes for a what-are-you-thinking  letter to the City Manager.

Management tends to attract the most reviewer ire, a trend entertainingly mirrored in fiction successes of recent years:  Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came to the End, Richard Russo’s Empire Falls, Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada, and Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, and so many others.

Leslie T. Chang observes in her article “Working Titles” in The New Yorker , “the  Chinese, some of the hardest-working people on the planet” demonstrate a distinct spare-time reading preference for novels about the workplace.

As for the American fiction market, one forthcoming standout is actually a translation: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami.   Tsukuru finds that achievement of a career doing what he has always dreamed of-designing train stations-does not guarantee happiness and fulfillment.   

In Simon Wroe’s debut, Chop Chop, the boss, a “culinary dictator”, is the centerpiece of the narrative Publisher’s Weekly recommends for “anyone with a taste for the morbid and whimsical”.   The Intern’s Handbook by Shane Kuhn stars a hit man disguised as a company intern. 

In A Highly Unlikely Scenario or, A Neetsa Pizza Employee’s Guide to Saving the World, Rachel Cantor imagines a future ruled by fast-food conglomerates.  Only a few brave souls can prevent them from completing the ruin of civilization. 

One of them is a librarian.  Her workplace probably advocates organic produce, too.

Smart Irrigation Month, Pt 3: Sprinkler Heads

SmartIrrMonthSo 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 underground and pop-up when it’s their time to water. rotor sprinkler

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  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.spray head

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 water pressure 2

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: Sensors

SmartIrrMonthThe 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.    sensor poor location edited

  • 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!