Year: 2016

Smart Sprinklers for Smart Irrigation Month

So here we are in July again this year!  How did it arrive so fast and so hot??  We know in these hot summer months, we tend to use more water outdoors, which is why July is designated as Smart Irrigation Month by the Irrigation Association and endorsed by Governor Abbott.SmartIrrMonth

I don’t think anyone deliberately chooses to look silly or be wasteful by watering during or immediately after a huge rainstorm, or during the heat of the day.  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.  Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.  This brings me to my 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—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 sensor.  While irrigation is technology, apparently it’s not the cool technology that people invest in as frequently as their electronic devices.

I think it’s because we don’t often 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!  Maybe!

The two main areas your controller can be smart is when dealing with the weather.  Sensors and controllers are the two areas that can help you with determining if the yard even needs to be watered.

  • Sensors are still around—rain sensors, freeze sensors, and soil moisture sensors are the main ones.
    baseline soil moisture sensor

    soil moisture sensor

    • 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!  But, it is better to have a rain sensor than nothing!  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 is wet enough, 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 over-watered.  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 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° 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.
  • Weather-Based Controllers–this is where things have really gotten interesting.Logo-WaterSense
    • There are several controllers on the market currently that take into account the actual weather, either with a weather-station that is installed at your home (it’s not too large), or a near-by weather-station that the controller can connect to thru WiFi.  That said, you would need to have a WiFi connection at your property that the controller can connect to.
    • The controller checks the weather forecasts daily, if not multiple times a day, to determine if the irrigation system needs to run or not.  It may delay the irrigation cycle if rain or other inclement weather is forecast.
    • These controllers need some extra set up time.  Once they are installed, they are not just go to go.  You have to spend a little time to enter in information about each irrigation station in your yard, like what type of sprinkler head it is, how much light it receives, landscape material, slope, and even more.  There is the very real possibility that using one of these controller can increase your water use, if it’s not set up properly.
    • Many of these “smart” controllers have online apps or websites to use.  The irrigation can now be controller from your desktop, laptop, tablet or phone!  It’s a little nicer than standing in your hot garage to make adjustments, which is pretty cool!
    • Look for a controller that is WaterSense approved.  That’s what is approved by the City’s rebate, as it’s been third-party tested to maintain water savings.

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

 

Round Rock named one of the best cities for Texas families

Photo Credit: Rock Studios


From great parks to out-of-this-world events to that hometown feeling you just don’t get everywhere you go, it’s no wonder Wallet Hub ranked Round Rock as one of the best cities in Texas to raise a family. Twenty-third best to be exact.

Sure, we’re not number one, but that doesn’t mean this ranking isn’t still exciting. It means we’re doing the right things but we’ve still got room to improve. We like that! After all, we’re the type of community that isn’t pretentious, holds true to its roots, takes time to make the best decisions for residents and is always working to make our future even better than our past. And because of all that, we’re confident the road to greater success is wide and open here in Round Rock – a place where folks can raise a family, enjoy an afternoon in nature and head out for a little nightlife to cap off a wonderful weekend.

We think our hometown is pretty darn great and we’re ecstatic others think so, too, but enough with all our preaching. You get the idea… Round Rock, rocks!

So, how’d the data folks at Wallet Hub come up with this ranking? Well, they compared 112 of the largest cities in Texas based on twenty-one relevant metrics that speak to their suitability for families of all types, including measures such as the number of playgrounds per capita, the violent crime rate and the divorce rate.

Still interested in more details? Chompin’ at the bit to see the full ranking? You can find it all right here: https://wallethub.com/edu/best-places-to-live-in-texas/22419/#main-findings

Top four reasons to Stop the Pop

fireworks infographicEach July 4th, thousands of people, most often children and teens, are injured while using consumer fireworks.

Despite the dangers of fireworks, few people understand the associated risks — devastating burns, other injuries, fires, and even death… just a few of the many reasons they’re illegal to possess or use here in Round Rock!

The Alliance to Stop Consumer Fireworks is a group of health and safety organizations, coordinated by National Fire Protection Association, that urges the public to avoid the use of consumer fireworks and instead, to enjoy displays of fireworks conducted by trained professionals.

Here are four facts to consider before you light up:

  1. From 2009-2013, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 18,500 fires caused by fireworks. These fires included 1,300 structure fires, 300 vehicle fires and 16,900 outside and other fires. An estimated two people were killed in these fires.
  2. In 2014, U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 10,500 people for fireworks related injuries; 51 percent of those injuries were to the extremities and 38 percent were to the head.
  3. The risk of fireworks injury is highest for young people ages 5-9, followed by children 10-19.
  4. More than one-quarter (28 percent) of fires started by fireworks in 2009-2013 were reported on July 4th. Almost half (47 percent) of the reported fires on the Fourth of July were started by fireworks.

And if you think you can find a City nearby where it’s legal to shoot fireworks, think again. Check out the video below.

Why the Kalahari Resorts project is a Big Deal

The Convention Center at the Poconos resort offers 65,000 square feet of flexible space including 25,000 and 9,000 square foot ballrooms, 18 meeting rooms and multiple hospitality suites. Current plans are for a 150,000 square foot facility in Round Rock.
Offering a variety of versatile venues, catering services and state-of-the-art features, Kalahari's Convention Centers are used by groups both large and small.
Kalahari Resorts and Conventions in the Poconos features a lake at its entry, something being considered for its Round Rock property.
The lobby of Kalahari Resort in Sandusky, Ohio, gives guests the first taste of the resort's authentic African theming.
Overview of the 100,000 sqare foot waterpark at Kalahari Resorts in the Poconos.

A lot of the news media coverage and some of the social media comments about the Kalahari Resorts announcement June 15 focused on the indoor/outdoor water park that’s a major element of the project. We understand why, but the project is so much more than that.

Here’s why: As currently proposed, the 1,000-room hotel and 150,000 square foot convention center would be the second largest in Central Texas.

That’s B-I-G big.

How big? Here’s how they would compare (according to the Austin Business Journal):

Largest hotels in Austin metro area

  1. JW Marriott, 1,012 rooms
  2. Hilton Austin, 801 rooms
  3. Renaissance Austin, 492 rooms

Largest indoor meeting spaces in Austin metro area

  1. Austin Convention Center, 369,000 square feet
  2. Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa, 60,000 square feet
  3. The Expo Center, 55,000 square feet

That’s why we characterize this proposal as a game-changer for Round Rock. It puts us in the hospitality and conference business in a big way. By way of comparison, the Marriott in La Frontera has 12,900 square feet of meeting space. The United Heritage Center at Dell Diamond has 5,400 square feet. They’re both great spots for a meeting, but nowhere close to the scale Kalahari is planning.

Kalahari is unlike any hotel/convention property in Central Texas. It’s a family resort destination that will draw approximately 1 million visitors annually. That’s 1 million folks coming to town, having a great family vacation or unique conference/convention experience, spending their dollars here and then heading back home. The project will generate millions of dollars a year in local and state government revenue. We can’t estimate just how much yet, because there aren’t enough details worked out in the development proposal.

A minimum of $250 million invested in property and capital, along with at least 700 jobs, is why we are negotiating an incentive package with Kalahari. We are working on a deal that will benefit both sides. The memorandum of understanding approved June 23 by the City Council lays out some of the parameters of the still-being-negotiated agreement. (In case you’re wondering what an MOU is, visit this FAQ.)

Here are 5 key points of the MOU:

  1. The City intends to loan Kalahari $11 million to purchase 155 acres of the 350 acres or so it has under contract. The loan will be in the form of a real estate lien note, with a reasonable rate of interest, secured by a first lien deed of trust. So what’s a real estate lien note and first lien deed of trust? Real estate lien note means the City will hold the land as collateral on the loan, which we anticipate funding from City cash reserves. First lien deed of trust means that any private financing Kalahari gets for project will be “second in line” as collateral on the 155 acres.
  2. The City plans to borrow money for the Convention Center and related infrastructure. The City would own the Convention Center until it is paid off. This will allow us to take advantage of favorable financing options (see point 5 below). We anticipate Convention Center debt will be backed by local hotel occupancy tax (HOT) funds and Type B sales tax funds. However, we plan to make the actual debt payments from the tax revenues generated from the project.
  3. The City intends to issue debt, likely Certificates of Obligation (COs), to pay for road improvements and other public infrastructure necessary to the project. COs are backed by property taxes, but, again, we plan to make the actual debt payments from the tax revenues generated by the project.
  4. The MOU lays out the types of revenue the City intends to share on the project. They include the local 7 percent HOT tax, 1 percent general local sales tax, local mixed beverage tax, City property tax and any eligible state taxes. What’s not included is the 2 percent local venue tax that helps pay for the Round Rock Sports Center; the half-cent sales tax that reduces property taxes and the half-cent Type B sales tax that pays for transportation improvements and economic development activities.
  5. We plan to use a recently-amended state law that allows the City to use state hotel occupancy tax revenue and state sales tax revenue to pay for a number of eligible uses related to the hotel and convention center. The key to the law is the City has to own the Convention Center. Using local HOT funds and local sales tax funds are the norm for major projects like this one. Leveraging the state’s 6 percent HOT tax and the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax is, ahem, a B-I-G part of this proposal.

Splash. Play. Meet: Kalahari Chooses Round Rock!

What do expansive meeting space, splashing good times, world class accommodations and the City of Round Rock have in common? Plenty, thanks to today’s announcement by Kalahari Resorts that they’ve officially selected our community as the location for their next big project!

A family-owned business, Kalahari is dedicated to providing guests with what they refer to as a “beyond expectations” experience. This morning, we were transported to that reality via the announcement event that took place at Centennial Plaza right here in Round Rock.

Kalahari collage 1

Todd Nelson, owner of the family of resorts, spoke about his organization’s commitment to guest experience, their employees and the communities where they operate. It was immediately clear that this isn’t going to be just another project, but instead, a huge win for Round Rock that will bring substantial economic development, jobs and a resort overflowing with a family-friendly atmosphere that you just don’t get everywhere you go.

“Texas gets it; I think the entire state gets it,” Todd Nelson, owner of the Kalahari Resorts group, said. “And Round Rock absolutely gets it – we could not be any happier to be here!”

So what can you expect from the new resort?

Definitely not just another waterpark, Kalahari’s next project is going to be a game-changer! From a convention center designed to accommodate sizable group meetings and other events, to excitement-inducing resort amenities, this place looks like it’s going to be filled to the brim with this-is-so-cool-we-never-want-to-leave-style fun! And while design plans aren’t fully fleshed out yet, video shown at the announcement allowed us to go inside Kalahari’s vision for creating a “world-away” resort that brings business, family and fun together in an unexpected atmosphere centered around connecting with those around you.

Here’s a quick glimpse of one of their resorts currently located in Sandusky, Ohio:

Excited? So are we. In fact: We. Can’t. Wait! But with so much work still to be done, it’s time we get back to it. Stay tuned here for more details about the project!

After the Rain: Summer Lawn Watering

Do I need to water?

Do I need to water?

With temperatures beginning to soar into the 90s everyday, we need to start being aware of our water consumption—summer heat is coming!  You know it is.  Thanks to all the great springtime downpours (and floods!), we have had the luxury of low water bills since we haven’t really needed to turn on the sprinkler (aka: irrigation) system yet this year!  In order to prevent a shockingly high bill when you do start using your sprinklers regularly, (remember tiered rates are in effect), here’s my main advice about how to start watering smartly this summer.

So, how do I know if I need to water?

Has it rained recently?  If yes, then turn off the sprinklers!  We can really keep sprinkler systems turned off for a solid week, or longer, after a good rain event, to let the plants use the rainwater and the soil start to dry out.  We want Mother Nature to water our yards, its so much better than tap water thanks to the nitrogen in it AND saves us money.  Keep those sprinklers off at least 2 days for every 1/4″ of rainfall.

So, how do you know if your soil is dried out?  You can test how wet or dry your soil is with a soil moisture sensor—this is a device for automatic sprinkler systems that is buried in the yard to monitor the soil’s moisture and will either allow or not allow the sprinkler system to run based on how wet the soil is.  The City’s Water Conservation Program offers a rebate on this type of device.

soil moisture sensor

soil probe

You can also test your soil moisture with a soil moisture probe; this is simply a hand-held device that you push into the ground and the display tells you if the soil is wet, moist, or dry.  You can find one of these at most garden supply stores.  Or, a good old-fashioned long screwdriver will do the job too!  If you can easily push it into the ground, then you probably can hold off watering for another couple of days.  When you can’t push it easily into the ground, time to water!       

 

And how much do I water?

When you do turn on the sprinklers to start watering, don’t just turn it on full blast to the summer watering schedule—it’s not that hot yet!  Keep it moderate, meaning, water on the lower side; about half of your normal summer water schedule.  Then as temperatures increase over the rest of the summer, increase the areas that are looking stressed.  My recommendation is start with watering no more than once per week.  Then, when you notice the lawn or plants look droopy or dull-colored first thing in the morning, that‘s a sign it’s time to increase the water—this could mean add a second watering day, or just increase the time by 2 minutes on the areas that need it.

Remember, the goal is to not have to water!  We want to have drought-tolerant plants than need infrequent watering.  That happens by letting the soil slightly dry out between watering and getting those roots to grow.

We’re very lucky right now since we’re not under any water restrictions, so watering is allowed on any day.  This is great, because it means you can water when your landscape actually needs it, not just because it’s a Tuesday (or whatever day).   It’s always best to water before the sun comes up or after the sun goes down each day, to reduce evaporation.

If you are a direct City water customer and your property has an automatic sprinkler system and you are unsure of how to program it or concerned about its efficiency, you can  request a free irrigation system evaluation.  The evaluation consists of running through the system looking for problems, ways to upgrade or adjust the system to operate more efficiently, and providing recommended water schedules.

To schedule an irrigation evaluation or more water conservation information, contact Jessica Woods by email jwoods@roundrocktexas.gov or 512-671-2872 or visit www.roundrocktexas.gov/conservation for all program information and more detailed recommended watering schedules.

 

Join us for a Trailgating Party in celebration of National Trails Day!

Walk.Ride.PlayWe’ve all seen pictures, and many of us experienced, the fun of tailgating before our favorite sports team takes the field. Food, friends and fun is what it’s all about!

This Saturday, June 4 from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. at Freeman Park (301 Forest Ridge Blvd.), we’re bringing a little slice of that game day experience to Round Rock with a Trailgating Party to celebrate National Trails Day. No, there won’t be touchdowns or 2-point conversions, but we’ll have plenty of food and fun for the whole family!

From free t-shirts and water bottles to delicious food, great games and even a few awesome giveaways, this is the perfect way to get outside and start your family’s weekend off right!

This event is also the start of our two month Trails Challenge, a self-guided tour of the Round Rock trail system that you can complete on your own schedule. Get it done by August 31 and you’ll be eligible to receive a prize!


Also, don’t forget to download our mobile app, which has a built-in trail finder! Perfect to get you moving toward discovering nature right at home here in Round Rock!


trails post collage

Do you have what it takes to be a Round Rock Firefighter?

APPLY NOW FIRE WEB


FIREFIGHTER APPLICATIONS ACCEPTED JUNE 6-15


A room is rapidly filling with gray smoke. No lights. Just smoke and darkness. Now imagine that there’s a little girl and boy in another room on the opposite side of the house. Flames are building. You and your team are the only thing between those kids and a heart-wrenching situation.

You’re guiding a swift water rescue boat toward a vehicle that’s been swept from a low-water crossing. Water is rising. Debris is blocking your path. You see the car – there’s a family inside. They’re screaming for help, but don’t know what to do. You and your team are the only thing between that family and a horrific outcome.

These two scenarios are just a glimpse into the situations our firefighters must be prepared for on a daily basis.

Are you ready to help protect our community and save lives? Can you handle the pressure?

If you think you’ve got what it takes, you’re in luck. The Round Rock Fire Department is accepting applications for new firefighters from June 6 through July 15 and will hold a written examination on July 30.

Information on pay, benefits and minimum requirements below:

Pay and Benefits:

  • Base Firefighter Pay = $47,205.08
  • Annual Pay Increases
  • Paramedic Incentive Pay
  • Education Incentive Pay
  • TMRS Retirement Plan

Minimum Requirements:

  • Must be at least 19 and under 36 years of age
  • Must be a Texas Commission on Fire Protection Certified Firefighter and a Texas Department of State Health Services Certified EMT or be currently enrolled in a commission approved academy and TDH approved EMT class.
  • Must posses, or have the ability to obtain, a valid Texas drivers’ license

Need more information? Call us at 512-218-7035 or email psanchez@roundrocktexas.gov


fire collage

We Want to Alert You!

Is there truly ever a time that we enjoy opening bills?  I can’t think of any, except when maybe I’ve just paid off a credit card and am very happy to see the zero balance!  Who wouldn’t enjoy knowing you owe no money that month!?!?  I would love it!high bill

Well, when the opposite happens–opening a bill you thought would be small, but was very high—that can cause a lot of unhappy feelings, stress, anger, confusion—what happened?  Why is this so high?  Why didn’t I know?  Enter applicable emoji faces here.  Ha!

The City is trying to prevent that negative reaction from happening when you open up your water bill each month.  Thanks to the new automated water meters that the Utility Department has installed over the last several years, we can now let you know if you’ve had water running through your water meter without stopping for over 24 hours!  Pretty cool!

Here’s a little history on these new meters:  Back in 2009, we began upgrading the meters from a traditional meter that is read each month (and only once per month) by actual persons that walk the town, street by street, opening up meter boxes to write down that month’s number.  That was pretty inefficient, but the standard practice in the water metering world.  Those new meters installed starting in 2009 were called AMR (automatic meter reading), as a person didn’t have to walk all day and open up these boxes.  Now we could read the meters from the comfort of a car, with this drive-by system, as the meter reads would automatically be uploaded into the computer in the car with the now-mobile meter reader.  This allowed the city to read meters much faster, find meters that weren’t working quicker, prevent mistakes made when manually reading the meter, and provide more water data and information to you (our water customers) about when water is being used at your property.  (You may have seen some of the cool water use graphs we can now access.)

Moving forward, starting in 2015, we upgraded the meters again, moving to an even more automated system where now we don’t even need to drive-by to get the monthly meter reads.  Now, the meters send their reads twice a day to our billing software infrastructure.  This makes us even more efficient in removing vehicles off the road (helping with air quality, saving fuel costs), knowing nearly immediately when meters stop working, having quicker access to water use to help answer questions about why bills may be high, and again, (we’re coming full circle now) let you know if you have a leak registering on your water meter.

We receive an alert from the meter if water has been flowing for more than 24-hours without stopping.  So, rather than finding out a month or so later (when the bill comes in the mail AND you’ve actually opened it), you now may find out within a week that you have some kind of odd water use.  You can start checking things out at your house to prevent that shocked when opening the bill experience!  Maybe it’s an easy-to-prevent toilet leak, a water hose left running, a swimming pool fill stuck open, or unfortunately something worse, but we want you to know about it as soon as possible to prevent damage, save money, and save water! alert word

The leak alerts will primarily be sent in the mail as a postcard, but may be a doorhanger, or an email.  We aren’t able to say what specifically is causing the constant water use, we can only tell you that water is being used continuously at your house.  Hopefully before the end of this year, you’ll also be able to receive this alert as a text message.  More on that coming soon!

Starting this leak alert notification is just another way we are striving to save water as a community and provide the best customer service we can, to you!  I really hope you never get one sent to you—no one wants a leak!  But if you do, you’re welcome!

Memorial Weekend = Smart Water Weekend

WeMEMORIAL-DAY know that the last weekend of the month of May is Memorial Day weekend, usually associated with the ending of school, BBQ, some kind of water sport (lake, boat, swim, beach…), perhaps even for what it’s meant to acknowledge–those who have died in active military service to our county.  Not to make light of the sacrifices many, many soldiers have made for the USA, now we here in Texas have another reason to enjoy the weekend:  This year will be the first time WaterSense products and certain water conservation products will be tax exempt!

Backstory:  You are probably familiar with ENERGY STAR, a widely recognized and trusted label on products that meet strict energy-efficiency requirements set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Products that have earned the ENERGY STAR label will help you save energy and money without sacrificing features or functionality.  For several years now, certain ENERGY STAR products have been tax-exempt if purchased during the Memorial Day weekend.  

Find out answers to all your energy related questions at the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts website because I am excited to discuss the new part of this tax-free weekend–the water part!  This year, you can buy certain water-efficient and water-conserving products tax free during the Water-Efficient Logo-WaterSenseProducts Sales Tax Holiday.

The 2016 holiday begins Saturday, May 28, and goes through Monday, May 30 (Memorial Day).  During the holiday period, you can buy any product tax-free that displays a WaterSense label or logo.  (Pictured at the right).

According to the comptroller’s website, you can buy any WaterSense labeled item tax-free, or any product (such as the ones listed below) that will help make your residence more water efficient, such as:

  • WaterSense labeled toilets, showerheads, and faucents
  • a soaker or drip-irrigation hose
  • a moisture control for a sprinkler or irrigation system (like a soil-moisture sensor)
  • mulch* (*note: you can get this free year-round if you are a City of RR water customer.  Just take your bill to the brush recycling center at 310 Deepwood Dr).
  • a rain barrel** or an alternative rain and moisture collection system (**note: rain water collection barrels, tanks are tax-exempt year-round in Texas.)
  • a permeable ground cover surface that allows water to reach underground basins, aquifers or water collection points (like paving stones with holes in them) 
  • plants, trees and grasses
  • water-saving surfactants

 

Of course, this isn’t meant to be an all-inclusive list, it’s merely to make you aware of the tax-free holiday.  Find the full details at the Texas Comptroller’s website.  You could certainly use this to maximize your water (and money) savings at your home.  Because, don’t forget, the City’s Water Conservation Program gives rebates on WaterSense labeled toilets, and specific irrigation components (like controllers, sensors, some sprinkler heads, and well at rain barrels).  Find out rebate information here.

Make this the month you start saving more!