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.

Five tips to help you water smarter in dry conditions

Following low rainfall this summer, water levels in Lake Georgetown currently stand at 776 feet — a 14 foot drop below its full capacity. This puts the lake just 6 feet away from levels that automatically trigger Stage 1 restrictions in the City of Round Rock. City officials are currently monitoring water demand, drought conditions and the weather forecast to ensure preventative steps can be taken to mitigate water loss if conditions worsen.

In addition to rain dancing, we ask that you help us get through this dry season by fine-tuning your watering habits. Outdoor watering of landscaping is the City’s highest use of water in the summer months, often up to 60 percent of our total water use! 

Here are five things you can do as a homeowner to water smarter (and keep your water bill in check – an added bonus!):

1. Water deeply and no more than twice per week to allow the plant roots to grow deep and strong. Watering too many times per week results in shallow roots, encourages weeds and makes your grass less drought-tolerant. Check out Round Rock’s suggested outdoor watering schedule, which helps the City balance water consumption needs for all customers:

Outdoor Watering Schedule
Property TypeWatering Days
Residential Odd-Numbered AddressWednesday and/or Saturday
Residential Even-Numbered AddressThursday and/or Sunday
Commercial, Industrial, Multifamily, Institutional, GovernmentTuesday and/or Friday

2. Remember to water early in the morning when winds are calmer and temperatures are lower. Avoid watering your landscape too late in the evening to prevent disease and decay from occurring overnight.

3. Don’t increase watering in areas that don’t need it. There are sections of your landscape that don’t typically need extra water, even in August:

  • Landscape beds
  • Shaded grass under live oaks
  • Sides of the house – by some estimates, about one-fifth of summer irrigation water is spent watering side yards, AC condensers, tool sheds and garbage cans!
  • Drip lines (Remember: drip delivers a week’s worth of water directly to the roots in a single cycle; no need to run these more than once per week)

4. Maintain, maintain, maintain. Cracks in irrigation pipes can lead to costly leaks, and broken sprinkler heads can waste water and money. If you’ve been meaning to take a deeper look at your system for these problems, it’s not too late.

5. Pay attention to signs of overwatering. If you have any pesky cockroaches, pillbugs, mllipedes and fire ants sneaking into your house, you could be overwatering! Other signs include dollarweed and fungi, such as mushrooms.

Did you know? City of Round Rock’s Water Conservation staff provides free consultations to direct City of Round Rock water customers. Contact Jessica Woods at 512-671-2872 or email jwoods@roundrocktexas.gov for more information.

Smart Irrigation Month is Here

The HEAT is definitely on!  Welcome Summertime!

You may have heard by now, that July has been deemed “Smart Irrigation Month” by the Irrigation Association since 2005, because that’s typically when the hottest temperatures occur (here in Central Texas, our hottest months are 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.

This year, I’d like to challenge you to do something different. It’s been a slightly different year already: we actually experienced a winter (all Native Texans can appreciate that!!) AND it was a wonderful spring—again, that’s amazing since we usually go from winter straight to summer!  We didn’t have a 100-degree day until this last week and really haven’t needed to use the irrigation system until June.

In honor of Smart Irrigation Month, I’m going to ask you to something different by investing in your irrigation system and upgrade where necessary.  Don’t just turn it on and forget it all summer.  I want 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 rotary) heads. Both are usually buried underground and pop-up when watering. Spray heads spray water the same piece of grass, or landscaping, the entire time they are popped up. Rotor heads turn to the left, right, or in a circle, when they pop-up and do not water the same place the entire time they are popped up.  They can have one large stream of water spraying out or smaller streams of water spraying.  With either pattern, they turn, versus being stationary. 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. Rotor heads are desirable to use in large areas—fewer heads are required to cover a large space since they spray water out a further distance than spray heads.

Traditional spray heads are not quite as efficient, mainly due to variations in water pressure and head spacing (specifically heads placed too far apart). Misting is 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. 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 35-60 psi.

High pressure can be remedied in two main ways: installing a pressure reducing valve (PRV) on the irrigation system, or replacing the nozzles with ones that adjust or compensate for the high water pressure. So…which is better? That’s a hard question to give a quick answer for.

The PRV is a good fix if the entire irrigation system is running with high pressure. It’s one device that is installed near the backflow prevention device in your yard. A licensed irrigator should be contacted to install this device.

Replacing nozzles is a great way to fine-tune the irrigation system; here, you can just replace nozzles in the zones that have the high misting. This is a little more time consuming because you need to find and purchase the correct nozzle types (full circle, half circle, etc) and then physically unscrew the old nozzles and screw on the new ones, but overall it’s pretty inexpensive. Of course, a licensed irrigator can be hired to do this work as well. There are several brands of nozzles that have built-in pressure compensation and can be ordered online or found in local irrigation stores.

Both types of pressure reducing 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!

#TXWindmills and #TXWatertowers

  • July 5, 2018

  • By Jessica Woods

  • Posted In: Water Spot

Reuse Elevated Water Tower

You may be asking what does windmills and water towers have to do with the usual topic of water conservation that we share here?  Well, nothing directly; however for this blog I want to share a fun campaign that the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) is running this month.  To put it very simply, the TWDB is the State Agency that oversees all surface water rights in the State and tries to ensure that we will have enough water for the future of all Texans.

The TWDB, Texas Historical Commission (THC), and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) are once again taking a summer road trip—and everyone is invited.  We’ll be on the lookout for two iconic and important Texas water symbols that help define the story of Texas water: windmills and water towers. Windmills helped populate our great state by making water available in areas not supported by rivers and springs, and they remind us that the water beneath our feet continues to sustain vast swaths of the state and will continue to do so in the future.

Join the Board by posting your own photos of #TXwindmills and #TXwatertowers to Instagram.  We’ll be sharing photos and information throughout the month of July and featuring submitted photos, too.

Where will our virtual road trip take us? All over Texas, we hope! Participate for the chance to win cool souvenirs (aka prizes); we’ll be holding a random drawing at the end of the campaign.

To participate:
1. Follow @txwaterdevboard, @txhistcomm, and @texasparkswildlife on Instagram
2. Post your photos of #TXwindmills and #TXwatertowers (make sure your profile is public!)
3. Mention the location and tag us

The virtual tour will run from July 1 to July 31, 2018.  A total of five participants will be selected at random by the TWDB, THC, and TPWD after the campaign ends to receive a swag bag. Prizes may include TWDB, THC, and TPWD swag and/or other items determined by the host organizations. Winners will be notified and announced the week of August 1 via Instagram. More information is available at www.twdb.texas.gov/newsmedia/promotion/index.asp.

Happy Traveling and seeing those wonderful water features!

 

Spruce Up Your Sprinkler System and Save

Spring has arrived! The onset of warmer weather can lead to an increase in landscape irrigation. 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.

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.

Freeze Protection

Welcome to the new year!  Did your landscape look like any of these pictures recently??  Those beautiful icicles and “snowy” grass is a hint that you have probably left your irrigation system on and it ran during the freezing temperatures we’ve recently had.  Please, go turn them off now!  

I will admit that I like to go drive around town the morning of a freeze to see who has left their systems on.  It’s very dangerous–with frozen sidewalks and streets, but also a little humorous.  I hope to not have a picture of your house or business!

Having the irrigation system on in freezing temperatures can cause a lot of damage to the system–freezing pipes and heads, which can cause broken pipes and heads, and then leaks.  This means water waste and higher water bills!  It can also damage the plants, being coated with water that freezes is hard on the plant and could essentially freeze it to death.  You don’t want any of that!

Having your irrigation system on during the winter months is also not recommended since we’re still in waste water averaging mode.  The less water you use from November through February, the lower your wastewater (or sewer) charges will be the rest of the year.  Find more on wastewater averaging here.

Here’s a quick list of things to do to protect your irrigation and landscape investments during freezing temperatures:

  1. Turn off your irrigation system.  (Reasons stated above.)
  2. 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.
  3. Water well, but avoid moisture on the plant leaves and stems–this means hand-water.  No irrigation use (of course, underground drip is fine).  Water saturated soil holds heat better than dry soil.  Keep damaged plants well watered, but be aware that plants needs much less water in cooler months.
  4. Water only when temperatures rise above 45 degrees or higher the day before a freeze.

During most winters, supplemental watering isn’t necessary.  Think about your landscape, and water bill, before adding additional water in the winter.

 

Watering in Winter

  • December 4, 2017

  • By Jessica Woods

  • Posted In: Water Spot

Winter is here and that means it’s the start of the wastewater averaging (WWA) season.  What is wastewater averaging, you ask?  Well, let me tell you…

In the winter months the City assumes that our water usage is lower than any other time of year simply because it’s cold out (its winter and ideally cold!) and we’re not watering our yards.  As an aside, during winter the lawn and landscape isn’t growing, it’s going dormant.  No need to water it at all, just an occasional watering once a month is plenty.  Because these month’s water consumption is low, the City uses these 3 billing cycles (Nov-Dec, Dec-Jan, Jan-Feb) to determine how much you’re going to be charged for wastewater (a.k.a. sewer) for the rest of the year.  The City has no meter on the wastewater line coming out of your house, so we can’t see exactly how much water is being put down the drains; we make an educated assumption that all water being used at your house is going down the drain.  Since no water is being used outdoors (Right??  Turn off those sprinkler systems!), then the theory is that all water is being used indoors, for necessary purposes—baths, showers, toilets, sinks, dish and clothes washers, etc.

The average of these months water use is what you are charged for wastewater for the remainder of the year.  So, for example, if you use 5400 gallons on your Dec bill, 4900 on January bill, and 4500 on February bill then your WWA would be 5400 + 4900 + 4500 / 3 = 4933, which would be rounded to 4900 gallons.  So, for the rest of the year, the most you’ll be charged for wastewater is 4900 gallons!  That’s good!  No matter if your water use goes higher in the summer; the waste water use is capped at 4900 gallons.

This is a number that is recalculated annually, so if you “mess up” and refill your pool or keep watering that yard the whole winter, you can fix it the next year by keeping the water use down.  So again, turn off those sprinklers!  Fix leaks!

Another way to keep water use low in winter is to check for leaks, especially in your toilets.  Watch our video to learn how to check your toilet to see if it’s efficient or if it’s leaking.  Dye tablets to check toilets for leaks are available free of charge at our utility billing office (in City Hall), or food coloring works well too.

I say in the video that toilets using 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf) or less are considered efficient.  I want to add to that by saying that as of January 1, 2014, it became state law that all toilets sold in Texas must use 1.28 gallons per flush OR LESS.  So that means even if you have a 1.6 gpf toilet, you can make it even more efficient, and save more water each time you flush (and reduce those waste water charges further) by upgrading to a new 1.28 gpf toilet!  Upgrading from an older model toilet to a new one can save up to 4,000 gallons yearly!  Wow!  How many toilets do you have in your house that can be upgraded?

The City’s Water Conservation Program’s has a rebate program for this upgrade (could be a useful Christmas gift??).  Find the details about the toilet rebate at www.cityofroundrocktexas.gov/conservation.

5 Signs You’re Watering Too Much

A high water bill may be your first clue that something is terribly amiss. But there are a few other signs that signal you may be overwatering your landscape.

Sometimes the biggest water waste happens in perfectly manicured lawns, watering on the correct time and day, with no signs of broken sprinklers or anything wrong.  In such a case, a high water bill may be the customer’s first clue that something’s terrible amiss in the water department. But here are a few signs to watch for — usually in summer, but any time of year if you’re overwatering:

  1.  Cockroaches:If you see cockroaches wandering around shrubs, pots, grasses and the yard in general, you’ve got a perfect habitat for cockroaches — and that means your yard is as wet as the inside of a sewer pipe. Sound gross?

Cockroaches thrive on decomposing plant material. So remember, all that extra water is probably building up as thatch and rotting your grass from below. Other insects that benefit from too much water: pillbugs, millipedes and especially fire ants.

2. Dollarweed:  Dollarweed is one of those plants so tenacious it’s created an industry of big-box weed killers for homeowners trying to get rid of it. Hint: dollarweed requires even more water to look good than grass — so if your grass is drowning in dollarweed, put down the weedkiller and pick up the sprinkler instruction.

3.  Fungus:

Has it been raining? Then look for mushrooms. But if there are still mushrooms in dry, warm winter weather, your lawn is probably staying wet and poorly drained; not a good idea, since in addition to mushrooms, some of the most common fungal turf diseases include take-all patch and brown patch.

4.  Wet walls, fences, and cans:  It’s not just the amount of water you use, it’s where you put it. By some estimates, about one-fifth of summer irrigation water is spent watering side yards, AC condensers, toolsheds and garbage cans — and that’s way too much.  Heads in the side yard can be capped or turned off to reduce watering items that do not need the extra water.

5.  Runoff:  Pools of water are a sure sign the run times are too long on your sprinkler system. If the yard is too steep to hold much water, cycle and soak may be a better method. Remember, your bedding plants typically need less water than grass.

So remember, use common sense when it comes to your outdoor use.  If things feel or look too wet, reduce the time by 2 minutes to see how it helps the problems.  Wait at least a week before making more changes.

Drought got you down?

  • August 16, 2017

  • By Jessica Woods

  • Posted In: Water Spot

I recently saw a newsletter article by Brad Wier, with San Antonio Water System’s Conservation program that I thought very applicable to us as well. I’m borrowing heavily from it with my blog today.

For many homeowners it’s the norm to use more water on their landscapes in July, August, and September. Although the reason seems obvious — hot and dry months take a visual toll on grass — that’s not why customers double their water use in the summer.

The reason for the high bill comes down to sprinkler programming: adding a second start time to the existing program so the entire system runs both morning and evening.  It’s a perfectly valid thing to do; but it has the effect of automatically doubling your water consumption, with a similar effect on your bill.

Instead of running the entire system twice, run only the zones that actually need it. Remember, some sprinklers can run 20 gallons per minute, or more!  Before you turn them up, determine which zones actually need more water.

Which are your critical zones? Hint: it’s not all of them. Typically, it’s just the grass in full afternoon sun that’s under the most stress, especially if it’s St. Augustine. This might be a single sprinkler station; an extra 10 minutes here may solve the entire problem by targeting the extra water exactly where it’s needed.

Here’s a few places in the landscape that don’t typically need extra water, even in August:

  • Landscape beds
  • The grass sprinklers in the shade under live oaks
  • The garbage cans and the AC condensers
  • The sides of the house
  • The backyard
  • Drip lines (Remember, drip delivers a week’s worth of water directly to the roots in a single cycle; no need to run these more than once per week.

All of this saved run time really adds up when it comes to the bill. When in doubt, don’t change your program. If you need help decoding the sprinkler controller, call or email the Water Conservation staff for a free consultation (if you are a direct City of Round Rock water customer) at 512-671-2872 or email jwoods@roundrocktexas.gov

And remember, if you want a landscape that doesn’t get so crispy in August, it’s better to use shade and landscaping than grass and water.  Add a layer of mulch to bare areas, around trees, shrubs, and in beds.

Irrigation Rebates can Help you Reduce this Summer

Can you believe it’s July already?  July marks Smart Irrigation Month, and as I have in years past, I’m going to focus on providing you some tips to reduce your water use, or at least help you not waste water this July.  And, ideally, we’ll get some rain, which will help in reducing water use too!!

July is generally one of the hottest months of the year, which means, it’s one of the highest water use months of the year, which is why the Irrigation Association has designated this month as Smart Irrigation Month.

I’m going to focus on the two rebate programs that the City’s Water Conservation Program is offering for those of you with automatic irrigation (sprinkler) systems that are also direct water customers of the City.  You can take advantage of both to help you get that sprinkler system into top notch working order this year!

The first is a brand-new pilot program (being offered until September or until funds run out) for having your system checked out by a licensed irrigation company or irrigator.  This is essentially a “Spring Tune-Up” for your system (yes, even though it’s summer!).  If you hire a licensed company to come do a complete check up of the system and fix anything that needs to be fixed–broken heads, heads pointed the wrong way or are clogged, check the controller settings and whatever else is needed to get the system in tip-top shape, then you would be eligible for the rebate.  You can find the application and details for the Irrigation Check-Up program here.

Licensed companies can be found on the TCEQ’s website at this link.  You can also just check that the company has an LI number on their business card or website, or advertisement.  That LI stands for licensed irrigator, which by state law, a person must be to work on an irrigation system.

The second rebate program is the Irrigation Upgrade Rebate.  This rebate has been offered for several years now, but has undergone some recent changes to take advantage of newer technologies.  This program features rebates for the following type of changes, or upgrades, to your system:

  • reducing the water pressure on a system with high pressure by either installing a main pressure reducing valve (prv), or adjusting pressure at the zone valves, or replacing heads or nozzles with pressure reducing technology;
  • installing new technology in the form of weather sensors, such as rain, freeze, or soil moisture sensors;

    multi-stream nozzle

  • installing a new controller that is a WaterSense labeled controller (many new weather-based controllers qualify for this).  Look for the WaterSense label when purchasing at a store or online;
  • converting areas from traditional spray irrigation to drip irrigation;
  • capping off or permanently disabling a zone or zones;
  • converting traditional spray heads to more efficient multi-stream nozzles, or pressure reducing heads or nozzles; and
  • installing check valves on the lowest heads of your system that always look like they are leaking after the system turns off.  This is actually very normal and not a leak, it’s the low head drainage where the “extra” water in the pipe drains out after the system has turned off.  It can be prevented with sprinkler heads that have built-in check valves or installing a check valve in the existing head.

Of course, see the applications for complete details.  Neither of the programs are for the installation of a new system, only for the improvement of existing systems.  You can find those applications here or at www.roundrocktexas.gov/conservation under the rebate section.

Happy July and keep those landscapes water smart!