Fix a Leak Week!

 

 

 

 

 

The Environmental Protection Agency’s annual Fix a Leak Week (March 16-22, 2020) is to encourage Americans to use water efficiently by finding and fixing leaks. Repairing minor leaks, such as running toilets, leaky faucets, and dripping shower heads, can save a family as much as 10 percent on their utility bill and save water for future generations.

Most of the time, wasting water can be seen instantly- like watering your lawn too much, or leaving the faucet on for too long. Sometimes, the worst water waste can go unnoticed for days, weeks, and even months.  It’s very easy to miss a leak that you can’t see or hear. It’s extremely important to keep an eye on your water usage.

We try our hardest to notify our water customers of leaks at their properties. We will send emails, postcards, and even door hangers to ensure that you know about your leak!

Keep an eye out for leaks

You can sign in to RRTXWATER.COM to see your monthly, weekly, daily, and hourly usage. This is a great way to see unusually high spikes in water consumption, and it’s the easiest way to determine if you have a leak. You can also go look at your water meter to check for leaks while no water in being used at your property. Watch it for five minutes to see if any of the numbers move or if an arrow symbol appears in the upper center square. If an arrow symbol appears in the upper center of the meter, then water is going through the meter, which means something is “using” water on your property. You can also look at your water bill usage (look at the gallons, not just the dollars). If you’re using more than 2,000 gallons per person, per month, in the home, then usage is higher than average, and you may want to check for leaks.

 

 Places to check if you determine you do have a leak

  • Toilets–flappers are a huge source of leaks inside the house. Use dye tablets or food coloring to see if the flapper isn’t sealing property. See video on how to do this!
  • Hot Water Heaters–look to see if there is water in the pan under the hot water heater.  If so, there is a leak in the heater, and it will need to be replaced or repaired by a professional.
  • Irrigation Systems– Hire a licensed irrigation company to come check the system for leaks, or manually run though each station for several minutes looking for problems in the system.
  1. Hire a licensed irrigation company to come check the system for leaks, or manually run though each station for several minutes looking for problems in the system.
  2. Sometimes a line break is easy to spot, as water will be pooling into the street or on the sidewalk. Often leaks aren’t visible thanks to the rocky, karst limestone area we live in. The water flows down through the rock and we don’t see a pool of water on the yard.  You’ll need to look for signs of low water pressure, such as sprinkler heads not popping up.
  • Water Softeners–listen for signs of recharging of the unit. Typically, they only recharge at night, if you constantly hear it, or hear it during daytime hours have a service company come check it.
  • Faucets–constant running water or drips coming from bathroom or kitchen faucets, the bathtub, or outdoor hose bibs are leaks that need repairing.  
  • Water Meter–if you see water coming out of the water meter, or in the meter box, call 512-218-5555 to have the City come check the meter for a leak.

Leaks can deceive

Leaks can seem like a small amount of water; it may be just a drip or a small trickle. BUT over time, these leaks can turn out to waste tremendous amounts of water and cost the homeowner hundreds of dollars on their monthly water bill. Even a shower head that drips every second can waste over 3000 gallons of water per year! That is a tremendous amount of potable water that has gone to waste!

Will it really make a difference?

It’s a question that everyone asks themselves. Something I hear is “I’m just one person”. This is proven wrong with facts! It’s crucial to get out of this mindset! The amount of homes with leaks add up!

Importance of water conservation

Drought is an ongoing problem for Texas, especially in the summertime. The effects of drought can be seen throughout the state. We notice lake levels drop, plants drying and dying. With climate change affecting our water systems in drastic ways, we must do everything we can to conserve the water we are lucky to have.

Reusing Water Rocks!

The story of our city’s water

It’s very important to know where our water comes from and the process it goes through to fully understand and appreciate it. I believe the most important part of water conservation is the education of our community. If each person is more aware and informed about our water source, they might be more inclined to save it!

Our water mostly comes from Lake Georgetown which gets supplemented from Lake Stillhouse Hollow, near Belton via a 28-mile pipeline, and some from the Edwards Aquifer.

Lake Georgetown only gets recharged from storm water runoff and is effected by evaporation quite often. Lake Georgetown’s water level decreases frequently and fast (especially summer) which is our highest water consumption season. According to the City of Round Rock’s Water Production Report for August 2019 (Last summer), the average daily water consumption from surface water was about 30 million gallons of water!

Drought and water use go hand in hand

Water consumption is highest in the summer due to the watering of lawns, gardens, and pools. The lack of rain causes plants to dry up and die so watering increases to prevent that. Did you know that traditional irrigation uses potable water to irrigate lawns? Yes, that’s right. We water our grass with DRINKING WATER! August 2019 had a total average of 0.01 inches of rain. High water usage and lack of rain can be a dangerous combination because our water resources are being depleted faster than they are being replenished. This is a threat of water scarcity! As our population continues to grow, so does water consumption. Our city planners realized that they had to plan for more water usage and find ways to save water. About 20 years ago, the City of Round Rock implemented one of the most important water saving technologies to a special part of town. The Water Reuse program was created as an effort to reduce the City’s peak potable water use during the high use months. 

Potable: Safe to drink; drinkable.

Reuse, Reclaimed, Recycled water: treated wastewater that is safe and suitable for a purpose. Reuse may include irrigation of gardens and agricultural fields or replenishing surface water and groundwater.

Benefits

  • This helps with the City’s conservation efforts, by increasing the amount of potable (drinking) water that we have available.
  • This water is at a lower cost than the treated drinking water that is traditionally used to water landscapes.
  • Recycling water uses less energy than treating and distributing potable water.
  • Helps meet the domestic, industrial and environmental water demands that are increasing daily.

Reuse tank located off University Boulevard and Sandy Brook Drive

The recycled water is only available in certain areas of town (on the east side of I-35), close to where the recycled water line is in the ground. These areas include the Higher Education Center, Austin Community College, other parks and schools in the northeast part of the city, and subdivisions including Forest Creek HOA, Forest Creek Golf Course, the Freeman Tract, Legends Village HOA, and the Vizcaya development. The City also has a reuse water fill station at Old Settlers Park. This water is available FREE of charge to customers for commercial irrigation, development, or construction use only.

Is it safe?

I completely understand if people are concerned that lawns are being watered with recycled wastewater. According to a publication from the Reuse Water Foundation, “Disinfected tertiary-treated recycled water is virtually free from all pathogens, including viruses. Several long-term microbiological studies involving thousands of samples have confirmed that pathogens are reduced to non-detectable or insignificant levels in tertiary-treated recycled water.” So even though its water that has been used before, it’s still safe!

 

Look out for purple!

Purple indicates reclaimed non potable water. You will be able to see purple colored sprinkler heads, valve boxes, and even a purple stripe at the top of our reuse water tower. Most states require pipes to be colored purple when they carry reuse water. This bright color is also great for public education! Curious people may like to know why some pipes are colored purple.

I am happy to know that this city is trying to conserve our most important natural resources. It shouldn’t only be the city’s responsibility. You can find other ways to help conserve water in those hot summer months. There are many water saving tips on the Water Spot Blog!

2020 Water Conservation New Year’s Resolution

A new year means new opportunities to change the way we live and to make a better version of ourselves. Every year, everyone comes up with a new list of resolutions. Whether its to go to the gym or save more money, we all want goals that will have a positive impact on our lives. This year, we should all make our New Year’s Resolution list an environmentally sustainable one! This should not be difficult or expensive. In fact, some of these tips will help you save money and make your life a little easier!

Be conscious

Find the Value in Water

Every time you turn on the faucet, think about where that water comes from. Do you know where it comes from? How does it get to your home? Try learning a little more about the city’s municipal water processes. Think about how many activities you use water for in one day, maybe even make a list. Try to find the value in water by picturing your morning routines and day to day activities without water. The first step in saving more water is to investigate your household water usage. It’s helpful to see which activities use the most water. One excellent way to see how much water your household uses, is to sign in to RRTXWATER.com

Here are some simple tips to help you get started with your water conservation journey.

The best way to achieve a new goal is to start small and at home.

Kitchen

  1. Rinse fruits and veggies in a container filled with water instead of running them under the tap. Use the collected water to water house plants.
  2. Don’t use water for defrosting. Instead, leave frozen foods in the fridge to defrost.
  3. Collect the running water while waiting for the temperature to change. Use this water to drink or cook.
  4. When washing dishes by hand, don’t let the water run the whole time. Be mindful of when you need to use water. The dishwasher uses less water than washing dishes by hand! Wash dishes in the dishwasher if there are a lot. Just scrape off food into the trash bin, no need to prewash them. ALSO, when in the market for a new washer, be sure to look for an Energy Star model to reduce energy costs.

Bathroom

  1. Be a leak detective. Check all shower heads, toilets, and sinks in every bathroom for leaks. Lean how to check for leaks here: Find Leaks (of course, this isn’t only for bathrooms)
  2. Collect running water in a bucket while waiting for temperature to change before showering. Use this water to wash dishes or water plants.
  3. Use water saving shower heads, toilets, and faucet aerators. These products should have a Water Sense Label
  4. Use body and shampoo soap bars instead of shower gels. Gels need more water to rise out.
  5. Avoid using the toilet as a waste basket! Do not throw tissues, paper towels, or wipes into the toilet.

Laundry Room

  1. Only fill up water to cover clothing. Match the water level to the size of the load!
  2. Use washer for full loads only or change load setting if possible.
  3. Try re-using towels and clothes more than once.
  4. Skip the extra rinse cycle.
  5. When in the market for a new washer, there is a rebate for the purchase of high efficiency clothes washers. By replacing older washers with new, efficient models, water use can be reduced up to 40%! Clothes Washer Rebate

Outside

  1. Collect rainwater. Use rainwater to water plants, wash cars, and clean! Rainwater Collection Rebate
  2. Do not water more than twice per week. This is crucial to keep your lawn and landscape drought tolerant.
  3. Plant native shrubs, flowers, and trees. Native plants are well adapted to the climate here in central Texas, they need less water. Aggie Horticulture provides a host of expertise on landscape plants, ornamentals, turf-grass, and gardens.
  4. Spruce up your irrigation system. System maintenance can help save you a lot of money and water! Cracks in pipes can lead to costly leaks, and broken sprinkler heads can waste water and money.
  5. Be aware of the weather! Don’t water plants or grass if weather forecasts predict rain. Change your irrigation system settings to match the seasons weather.

These easy steps to conserving water is an excellent way to start your environmentally friendly goals! If you just start implementing one tip from this list a day, you will help conserve water and you will start to save money as well! The easiest step to starting a new goal is to just be mindful about how much water you and your family use. Learn about the importance of water this year and you will learn more about your habits. Inform family and friends about your new goals and try to get them on board!

Happy New Year!

Decem-Burr!

Winter is on its way in Central Texas, and that means it’s time to prepare and protect your plants and pipes!

Some might think, “well if it doesn’t rain, it won’t freeze.” Frost develops on clear nights, and the rule of thumb is anytime temperatures are expected to be 32 degrees or below, you should prepare for a freeze.

So, what should you do?

  1. Turn off your sprinklers

In our region, the most valuable adjustment you can make is to reduce the watering schedule or simply turn off the irrigation controller during the winter months.  Because the temperatures are cooler, less water is lost to evaporation and transpiration and plants simply do not need as much to replenish what is lost. In addition to cooler temperatures, winter is typically our rainy season too, so it’s best to take advantage of the free, nitrogen-rich rainfall. During normal winter conditions, the irrigation doesn’t need to be turned on more than once per month, if at all.

  1. Protect your outdoor plants

If weather is expected to hit 32 degrees or lower, protect your plants! Our first freeze occurred the morning after Halloween 2019, and for some people, it came as a surprise when they walked outside to see ice frost everywhere. Some people, like myself, were saddened to see that some plants have died due to the freezing temperatures.

  • Bring potted plants inside but be careful not to leave these plants too close to a heater vent because they can dry out.
  • The best way to protect outdoor plants from freezing is to cover them with a material that acts as an insulation and allows moisture to escape. There are different plant protecting products on the market, but the easiest and cheapest thing to use is a bed sheet. The best time to cover plants is before it gets dark so that the stored heat doesn’t escape. Make sure that the entire plant is covered, and the cover reaches the soil.
  • Compost and mulch outdoor plants thoroughly.  These two layers will help insulate the plant’s root zones while supplying the plant with needed nutrients.  Two inches of mulch is ideal, and remember, not too close to the trunk of trees or shrubs.  Mulch should be about two finger widths away from the truck.
  • Water, but avoid moisture on the plant leaves and stems–this means hand-water. When freezing temperatures are expected, watering can benefit plants. Water acts as an insulator, and water also helps retain heat so moist soil will stay warmer than dry soil.

Some people, including myself ask if Texas really needs to worry about pipes freezing. Well it doesn’t freeze that often in Central Texas, but there are still chances for pipes to freeze.

Pipe Protection

Some apartment complexes and neighborhoods will post signs along roads warning resident to drip their faucets for the freezing weather to come. If your area does not post warnings, you should always check the weather and news for freeze warnings.

What should you do to protect your pipes?

Insulate and Drip!

  1. Drip outside faucets 

When water freezes, it expands and can put pressure on any pipe material. Freezing temperatures even in Texas can cause pipes to break. The places where pipes are at risk of freezing are exposed and outdoors, unheated areas, and pipes that run against exterior walls that have no insulation.

Water is much more likely to freeze when stationary, so it’s good to let water moving through your pipes.

  • Drip outside faucets 24 hours a day to help prevent your pipes from freezing. This is not necessary unless temperatures are expected to be 28 degrees or below for at least 4 hours. (Be sure to turn off the faucets after the threat of freezing weather.)
  • To save water, use a bucket to catch the water dripping and use it to brush your teeth, cook, or water plants.
  • Open the kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals out of the reach of children. Keep the garage doors closed if there are water lines in the garage.

   2.Insulate

  • Wrap all exposed pipes located outside or in unheated areas of the home.
  • Remove garden hoses from outside faucets. Insulate outside faucets with Styrofoam cover, rags or paper.

Like I said before, the threat of pipes freezing where we live is not common, but when winter weather comes, you don’t want to be caught by surprise with broken pipes. On the other hand, plants freezing is more common. So be prepared to protect your plants and pipes this winter. Make sure you take precautions and check weather daily in the winter.

Stay Warm

Happy Winter!

Save Water and Collect Rainwater!

A Great Idea

As society becomes more aware that our natural resources are being depleted faster than they can renew themselves, we have come up with more ways to conserve and protect them. Have you ever considered collecting rainwater and putting it to good use? Think about every private and public property in the city. Now think about how much water each of those properties use. That’s a lot of water, isn’t it? Now try to imagine every single one of those properties collecting rainwater and using it for some of their water needs. Imagine how much of our municipal water source would be conserved. I know that it’s a stretch to think about every single property in the city collecting rainwater, but I think it’s possible for a rainwater harvesting movement to start with more homeowners in the city.

An Inside Look to Round Rock’s Water Usage

As our city grows, our water use does too. Have you ever wondered how much water is withdrawn from our water source (Lake Georgetown) in one day? According to the City of Round Rock Water Production Report, in August (one of the hottest summer months) produced a daily average of 28.1 million gallons of water.  Lake Georgetown supplies water to Georgetown, Round Rock, and Brushy Creek MUD. Think about those three cities water use in one day all together…

Some might ask, “Why would I collect rainwater and what would I use it for?”

Ways to use collected rainwater

  • Water landscape (via hand watering or hooking up to irrigation system)
  • Water gardens
  • Water indoor plants
  • Washing cars
  • Household cleaning

Some more complex uses

  • Refilling pools, fountains, or bird baths
  • Washing clothes (if connected)
  • Flushing toilets (if connected)

Benefits of rainwater harvesting

The benefits of collecting rainwater are countless, but here are just a few to get you thinking about how it could directly affect you.

  • Non-chlorinated water is better for plants and landscapes
  • Reduces erosion on properties
  • Reduces rainwater runoff that would be contaminated
  • It can be used as a backup water source for emergencies
  • Reduces demand on municipal water sources
  • Reduced water bills because rainwater is FREE
  • It uses simple technologies
  • Easy to install
  • There’s a rebate from the City!  https://www.roundrocktexas.gov/rebates/

Something to think about

Here in Texas the weather can be a little strange to say the least. One month we could have large amounts of rain and the next could be completely dry. Just think about this past spring of 2019. It rained a total of 17.4 inches, averaging about 4 inches a month. (March-June) Then in July it felt like it just stopped raining and we started heading towards drought conditions. During the hot and dry summer months (July-September) it rained a total of 1.56 inches of rain.

Half of Williamson County is in severe drought as I’m writing this. We aren’t under any water restrictions, but it’s scary to think about the water usage and replenishing ratio. As it gets hotter and dryer here in central Texas, a lot of homeowners start watering their lawns and plants more. I mean nobody wants their lawns and plants to die! Thankfully, this fall has brought down some temperatures and brought us some rain.

Click here for more information

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture this

This is an example of how much water a common house would use for irrigation. In this scenario, I will be using the average lawn size for a home in Texas.

Front and backyard lawn total- 7,552 sq. ft

A lawn needs about 1 inch of water (0.623 gallons) per square foot during summer months.

So that means I must multiply the 1 inch of water (0.623 gallons) by the amount of square feet there are in that lawn.  7,552 X 0.623= 4,705 gallons

If I water twice a week, that’s 9,410 gallons per week!

Now think about some of those huge commercial properties that have a lot of land to water.

Each number is in thousands of gallons. Click here for more information

How much water can be collected?

Some might ask, “will I even be able to collect enough water for actual usage?” or “would this really make an impact?”.  According to the Texas Water Development Board, for every inch of rainfall that falls on a 2,000 square foot roof, the rainfall collection yields to about 1,000 gallons.

Here’s an example of how much water you could collect during a rainy spring to use during a dry and hot summer.

Rainfall amounts from (March-June 2019) reached 17.40 inches in Central Texas.
According to the US Census, the average home in the US South is 2,392 square feet.

You will get 0.623 gallons (1 inch of water) for one square foot of your roof

2,392 X 0.632= 1,490 

1,490 X 17.4= 25,926 gallons

25,926 gallons of water collected during spring. If you wanted, you could use all that rainwater instead of your irrigation for a whole month! It would be especially helpful if the city were to go on mandatory water restrictions during a drought.

Collecting Rainwater can be simple!

Whether you are going to DYI or buy a container for storing rain, there are three basic components of a rainwater harvesting system.

  1. Catchment area- roof (impervious cover) that catches rain.
  2. Conveyance system- transporting rainwater from catchment area to storage (gutters and downspout)  
  3. Storage- container for storing rainwater. You can attach a rain barrel to your home’s downspout.

There are great guides to installing rainwater harvesting systems

The Texas Manual on Rainwater Harvesting from the Texas Water Development Board to learn how to install your own rainwater harvesting system.

American Rainwater Catchment Association

Collecting rainwater is a great way to help save the most precious natural resource, water. It also will help YOU save money! The benefits are endless, and you will be doing your part to help protect Earth.

 

 

 

Fall Gardening

A Sustainable Landscape

September marks the beginning of fall gardening here in Central Texas, especially for those native plant species. Early fall is also the perfect time to plant those shady native trees. Native plants can thrive without constant care, attention, and water, which is extremely important in times of drought. Native plants are a greater wildlife value, providing food and habitat. Growing native in your garden or yard will help you save money, time, and the most important natural resource, water.

You can still have a colorful garden.

Central Texas has a variety of beautiful colorful perennials, shrubs, and roses. These native flowers attract natural pollinators which are vital to the environment. It’s the perfect time of year to start planting Wildflower seeds! They germinate in the fall, develop throughout winter and bloom early spring. (Wildflowers do need moist soil to germinate but avoid over watering because they do not like saturated soils.) You can also plant some cool season annuals and vegetables to have throughout our mild fall.

Considerations for Native Trees

Click picture for more soil info.

Although native trees require less attention, it’s still important to consider the preparation. Think about what kind of soil you have in your landscape. Is it rocky? Does it have poor draining conditions? Does it retain water long enough? Here in Williamson County, we are divided between two major soil zones: Backland Prairie and Edwards Plateau.

 The Western side of Williamson County is in the Edwards Plateau zone. Soils are rocky and gravelly because it is underlined by limestone. This soil doesn’t hold water well, has high alkalinity and sometimes a low nutrient content. Consider planting Cedar Elm which can withstand poor soil, or Lacey Oak which can grow on shallow limestone soils. Texas Red Oaks are well adapted to rocky soils, and Bigtooth Maples thrive in alkaline soils. These trees can be watered every 3-4 weeks once well established.

Over to the East, we have Backland Prairie soils. This zone has darker, deep, and clay soils.  This rich fertile soil is great for planting Eastern Red Cedar, which needs deep soil to grow. Chinquapin Oak, Bur Oak, and Pecan all need dark and deep soils to grow their extensive root system. These trees can be watered every two to three weeks once well established.

A Self-Sufficient Landscape

The most important thing to a native landscape is to be self-sufficient. Ever wonder how that giant Oak tree by your neighborhood got so big without anyone taking care of it?  Native plants and trees are adapted to our climate, weather conditions, and soils. I’m not saying you should completely ignore your native plants but let them do their own thing and grow how nature intended them to.

Here’s two great searchable sources of native plants:

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

 Austin Watershed Department’s Grow Green program.

Save Water this Summer

The weather has been hit or miss so far this summer, with very little rain since July.  The City’s water use, as a whole, has doubled since the beginning of July!!  We were using close to 18 million gallons of water per day; now we’re up to 37 million gallons of water per day!  That’s a huge increase (city-wide, our use has doubled) all because of the heat.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say the high temperatures don’t mean we need to crank up the sprinklers.  That would be doing a disservice to our lawns and native plants AND our water source, which is Lake Georgetown.

While we aren’t in any mandatory water restrictions right now, the potential is there.  The lake levels have dropped from 100% full at the beginning of July, to 86% full as I’m writing this (mid-August).  That’s a lot of water reduction in only about 6 weeks!

I’d like to offer you several specific ways to help keep Round Rock’s water use low, so we don’t have to enact mandatory water restrictions.  You don’t have to do them all (however saving water = saving money and saving energy), so I just ask that you do as many as you can!

  1. Fix any and all leaks at your house; this could be a leaking toilet, a dripping faucet, or a pipe leak on the mainline. It could be leaks in the irrigation system.  Yes, there are a lot of places for water to leak from! 
    • The City’s Utility department has dye tablets and Teflon tape (aka plumber’s tape) for free in the Utility Billing Office. You can also request a free leak kit from the website here or see all our tips for leak detection at your property at roundrocktexas.gov/leaks
    • You can also view your water use on your city water portal; here you can see your weekly, daily, or hourly water use. You would be able to see if you have a leak if there is constant water use all day, even when you are sleeping or gone.  This isn’t in real time, there’s about a 12-hour delay, but it’s also great way to see how much you are using for different activities.
  2. Do not water more than twice per week. This is crucial to keep your lawn and landscape drought tolerant.  There are exceptions to this, like brand newly installed plants, gardens, plants in pots, but generally speaking, nothing needs  to be watered more than twice per week—some plants even less.
    • The problem with watering frequently is that the plant roots don’t grow long and strong.  They stay short and close to the plant—knowing they do not need to grow, as water will appear every day, or every other day.  Your landscaping goal should be to have a yard that you don’t have to water each summer, right?  Get the plant used to occasional watering, by not watering more than twice per week, and even cutting back to once per week.
    • Another great way to save is to not water if rain is forecast, or it has just rained—especially if it’s rained more than ½ an inch. Keep the water off for at least a week after a good soak.
  3. Is your yard thriving this summer? Looking lush and green and not realizing that it’s been over 100 degrees for weeks?  Does it look like it needs mowing once per week for sure, if not more?  If that’s the case, then I’d say you can reduce your runtimes (minutes) slightly and see if you notice any difference in the yard.  If not, great!  You’ve just reduced your water consumption.  You can try to reduce again, slightly, after a week or two to save some more!  By slightly, I’m talking 2 minutes.  That’s it—it’s not much, will your lawn even notice?    Try it! 
  4. Can you tell when your irrigation system has run because you have water all over your car, or back porch, or running down the street? That’s water is being wasted.  That’s water you’ve paid for, but not getting any benefit from.
    • Adjusting heads is relatively easy.  sometimes over time, the sprinkler heads just move and need some slight adjusting back to spray what they are supposed to spray.  In some cases, you can physically turn the head to face the direction it’s supposed to be spraying (this works best when the system is turned on, so you can see if you’re turning it to the right spot). 
    • Sometimes the head is just spraying water too far—over the landscape and into the street or driveway. We have a nice video that shows how to make that adjustment.  It’s also pretty easy, you just need a small, flat-head screwdriver and be willing to get a little wet! 
  5. Consider a smart controller for your irrigation system, rather than a traditional timer.
    • A smart controller will adjust for the weather, versus the traditional timer that waters every, just because it’s the set day to water, regardless if it is about to rain, or has just rained. The city’s irrigation rebate program may also cover a portion of the cost of a new controller, if it’s a WaterSense labeled controller.
    • Another way to achieve this would be to just water manually, not on a schedule. Actually look at your yard to determine if it looks stressed out (don’t do this during the heat of the day, because of course it will!); look at it first thing in the morning.  Is the grass leave blade upright, green, looking strong?  Then it’s good, no extra water is needed.

If you are going to water your lawn, we ask that you voluntarily stay on your water days; this way if we do go into mandatory restrictions you won’t need to make any changes.

    • For odd addresses, that’s Wednesday and/or Saturday.
    • For even addresses, that’s Thursday and/or Sunday.
    • No automatic irrigation is permitted between 10am – 7pm on any day.
    • Watering by hand allowed any day, at any time.

Need more detailed information about the water restrictions?  Visit the City website’s Drought Restriction page.

 

Smart Irrigation Month is Here

You may have heard by now, that July has been deemed “Smart Irrigation Month” by the Irrigation Association (IA). It’s an IA initiative to promote the social, economic and environmental benefits of efficient irrigation technologies, products and services in landscape, turf and agricultural irrigation. Smart Irrigation Month has been around since 2005 and is celebrated in July, because that’s typically when the hottest temperatures occur (though here in Central Texas, our hottest months tend to be August and September). With high and hot temperatures come higher water use, it’s just a given. We still want our landscapes to look as good as they have the rest of the year, so we crank up the water.

Today’s blog talks about what is the most important aspects of irrigation, but probably the most overlooked. 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 moldy, 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.)

shade means less water is needed

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 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
There are two main sprinkler head types—rotor and spray. There is also drip irrigation, which technically has no head at all! Rotor heads do just that: 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.

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. A broad rule of thumb is that spray zones can be watered for half the amount of time of rotor heads. 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.

rocks and native plants mean less water

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 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 caused very high water usage at the property before it was discovered. However, since drip is depositing water where the plant needs it, at the roots (rather than spraying it into the air and on leaves), it can be run less often.

Plant Material
Landscape material is the last component of the irrigation scheduling trifecta. Landscape could include turfgrass, trees, shrubs, groundcovers, perennials, flower beds, 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, trash cans, fences, and decks don’t grow. Pools don’t need to be filled by the sprinklers. 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. They are natives. 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. So, turn those stations off completely and just water when they look completely stressed out. (I’ll get down from my soapbox now!)

natural areas don’t need the extra water

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, reduce the time on those stations. 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 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, people 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. Ideally, St Augustine should be kept at 3-4” tall when it’s being cut to keep the soil from drying out. 

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 device. 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.

Let’s keep using our water smartly, especially during our Smart Irrigation Month(s)!

Time for a Sprinkler Spruce Up

Spring is arriving here in Central Texas, the flowers are blooming!  The onset of warmer weather can get you itching to turn the water on outdoors. 

Before you ramp up your watering, be sure to spruce up your irrigation system. System maintenance can help save you a lot of money and water! Cracks in pipes can lead to costly leaks, and broken sprinkler heads can waste water and money. You could be losing up to 25,000 gallons of water and more than $90 over a six-month irrigation season!

Now is the perfect time to spruce up your irrigation system. To get started, follow these four simple steps—inspect, connect, direct, and select:

Inspect. Check your system for clogged, broken, or missing sprinkler heads. Better yet, find an irrigation professional licensed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Qualify (TCEQ) to do the work for you. You can apply for a rebate from the City by having your system checked by a licensed irrigator.

Connect. Examine points where the sprinkler heads connect to pipes/hoses. If water is pooling in your landscape or you have large soggy areas, you could have a leak in your system. A leak as small as the tip of a ballpoint pen (1/32 of an inch) can waste about 6,300 gallons of water per month.  You can also sign up on the City’s water portal to receive leak alerts and to view your monthly, weekly, and daily water use at www.RRTXwater.com .

Direct. Are you watering the driveway, house, or sidewalk instead of your yard? Redirect sprinklers to apply water only to the landscape.

Select. An improperly scheduled irrigation controller can waste a lot of water and money. Update your system’s schedule with the seasons, or select a WaterSense labeled controller to take the guesswork out of scheduling. WaterSense labeled controllers also qualify for the City’s Efficient Irrigation Upgrade Rebate.

Don’t forget to add “sprinkler spruce-up” to your spring cleaning list this year. Learn more about maintaining a water-smart yard by visiting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense website at www.epa.gov/watersense/outdoor.

Find the City’s water conservation rebate details and application at www.roundrocktexas.gov/conservation.

Toilet Rebates End December 31, 2018

As we enter waste water averaging season (November through February), we are all trying to use the least amount of water possible so that our waste water averages and charges will be lower next year. So, let’s talk toilets as an 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 (which is every day).

You have a direct impact on your waste water 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 every day. They account for the greatest 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 waste water charges. We’ve come full-circle now!

Now, the City has had a toilet rebate program, on and off, since 2009. To qualify for the rebate there are three criteria:

1. You must be a direct City of Round Rock water customer. This is because the water conservation program is funded directly by a portion our customer’s water charges; MUDs and others not on City water do not contribute to the program and aren’t eligible.

2. Your house or property must have been built before January 2006. Here’s why that date is 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 of “low-flow” toilets.

So, fast-forward a few years to 1996 and efficient toilets were redesigned and now actually flushing the way they were supposed to. Around 2005, toilets underwent another generational change and dual flush toilets were introduced, as well as those using less than 1.6 gpf. That’s where we stand with the date. However, not all toilets are the same, which leads us to #3.

3. The toilet(s) purchased must be WaterSense approved. WaterSense is an EPA program that is basically like ENERGY STAR, but for water use. Items labeled “WaterSense” have been third-party tested for performance and lasting efficiency. When purchasing a product that has the WaterSense logo, you know the product will perform as expected and will retain its water savings for its life expectancy. The list is continually updated as more products get tested.

If you haven’t already participated in the rebate program to replace your pre-2006 toilets, it’s time to do it!! The rebate program is ending permanently on December 31, 2018, 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 use 1.28 gpf or less, per the Texas Plumbing Code. You really have no choice but to purchase an efficient toilet; so, we’d like to start using the toilet funds for another program.