Read Your Water Bill

front of water bill

I want to ask you a very important question: Do you read your water bill?  No, not just look to see how much you owe; but look at how many gallons you used during the last month?  No?  Not really even sure how?  Or what you’re looking at?  I understand!  I feel that way about my phone bill!!

In this blog I wanted to point out several things to start looking at on your water bill.  Maybe not every month, but at the very least each quarter or each season to check in and see how you are doing with your usage.  This may run long though, so I’m going to break it into a small series of things to look at on your bill.

Today I want to point out what I consider to be THE most important place to start looking at on your monthly bill, because you can’t save water if you don’t even know how much you’re using!  Right?  And then, you’re going to need to know if that amount is a high number or low one.  And what (or how much) is  a “normal” amount of water to use each month?

Of course, I have no exact answer about how much water is “normal.”  The answer depends on several factors, like the number of people in the house and their ages, the age of the home or the age of the appliances (like the toilets, dish and clothes washers, showerheads, and faucets), and whether your house has a water softener.  I’ll discuss this more at the end.

back of water bill

So look on the front of the bill at the little graph that shows the gallons of water used during each of the billing cycles for the last year (note: chances are the billing cycle is not for the entire month, it’s part of one month and part of another).  The x-axis (bottom) shows each month’s usage and the y-axis (vertical) indicates the gallons.  See the upper bill picture, I’ve circled the water use graph in red.  We measure the amount of water used each month in gallons—the same amount as a gallon jug of milk and you are billed by the thousand gallons used.

Another place to look at the amount of water used each month is the back of the bill.  Here is written the actual number of gallons used for the current bill.  See the bill at the bottom, I’ve circled that amount in orange.  The water bill says “total consumption in gallons” and then 12,400 is to the side.  That’s 12,400 gallons used this last billing cycle.

Now, many things can determine how much this number will be, as I’ve already listed a lot of those variables–number of people in the house, age of house and appliances, etc.  I will tell you that here in Round Rock, our average winter bill is for 5,868 gallons and our average summer bill is for 12,252 gallons.  How does yours stack up?

Also on average, we here in Round Rock use 75 gallons of water per person, per day.  Of course, this is average because a baby isn’t going to use that much, yet a teenager may use more!  You could make it easy for yourself and say each person in your home uses 100 gallons each day.  The average billing cycle is 30 days, so that would be 3000 gallons for each person each month.  If you have 2 people in your house that would be 6,000 gallons for your water use would be “normal” or expected.

This number can be greatly reduced by installing low water use (or efficient) fixtures, especially toilets and showerheads since they are used the most and the most often (multiple times a day).  Don’t forget the City has a rebate program for water efficient toilets and clothes washers.  Find out those details at www.roundrocktexas.gov/conservation   If there was any one thing you wanted to do to reduce the amount of water in your home, I would say replace your toilets.  If your home was built before 2000, I would replace the toilets with newer WaterSense models.  This allows you to save water without changing anything, you’ll still flush the same way.

I will say those efficient appliances really do make a difference.  My family of 4 (2 teenagers and 2 adults) uses right at 3,000 of water each month for all of us.  We installed new WaterSense toilets, showerheads, and a Energy Star dishwasher when we moved in 2 years ago.  Our house was built in 1999.  We don’t have a water softener.  We do have an irrigation system (that’s turn off currently!).  The clothes washer is a front loader that’s about 6 years old.  We do use them all several times each week!  It really is possible to reduce your consumption without it being a chore.

Now pull out those bills and take a look!  Next time I’ll point out a couple more places to look on the bill.

 

Winter Wonder, not wasting water!

Winter has come, finally!  It’s already the middle of November and wastewater averaging (WWA) is upon us.  What is wastewater averaging, you ask?  Well, let me tell you…

In the winter months (November, December, January, and February) the City assumes that our water use is lower than any other time of year, simply because it’s cold out, its winter, and we’re not watering our yards.  These are the months when water use is lower thanfrozen_faucet the rest of the year, so the City uses these 3 winter billing cycles (Nov-Dec, Dec-Jan, and Jan-Feb) to determine how much we’re going to be charged for wastewater (aka sewer) for the rest of the year.

See, the City doesn’t have meters on the wastewater line coming out of your house; so, essentially, we make an educated assumption that all water being used is going down the drains at your houses.  Since no water is being used outdoors. (Right? Turn off those sprinkler systems!)  All water is being used indoors for necessary purposes: baths, showers, toilets, sinks, dish and clothes washers, etc…

So the average of those 3 months water use is what you are charged for wastewater for the remainder of the year.  For example, if you use 5400 gallons on your December 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 wastewater 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.  But, we want you to save money and water now, so turn off those sprinklers!

Another way to keep water use low in winter is to check for leaks, especially in your toilets.  Watch my video on how to check for leaks and check your toilet to see if it’s efficient.  What I say in the video is that toilets using 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf) or less are considered efficient.  I want to add to that a little, by saying that on 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!  The City’s water conservation program’s has a rebate program for this upgrade.  Find the details at www.roundrocktexas.gov/conservation.

 

Water Less this Fall

Now that we’re officially into Fall hill-country-highlights-watching-the-leaves-change-at-lost-maples-state-parkand enjoying some cooler temperatures; it’s time to reduce the watering times on your irrigation controllers.  With less evaporation occurring, the landscape doesn’t need to be watered as often as during the summer months.  My general rule of thumb is: cut watering times in half during Fall and Spring

If you don’t really know how much you should be watering to begin with, let me go over the 3 basic things to look at to determine how long the system should be running because, 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.

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.  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 typesrotor and spray.  There is also drip irrigation, which technically has no head at all!

  • Rotor heads rotate, they turn, 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.
  • 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.
  • Drip irrigation is different. Drip typically emits water very slowly, very minimally, so it oftentimes needs to run for longer periods—30 minutes at minimum or much longer in many cases.

Plant Material

Landscape (read: living plant) material is the last component of the irrigation scheduling trifecta.  It may be obvious as well, but it does need to be said—areas with no vegetation really don’t need to be watered.  The bare ground will just be muddy.  Same goes for rocky paths, they don’t grow.  Mulched areas don’t grow.  Driveways, sidewalks, patios, and decks don’t grow.  Pools don’t need to be filled by the sprinklers.

Native plants, established shrubs, or other established perennials do not, I repeat, do not need the same amount of water as the grass.  That’s why you’ve planted them—they are native and require less water to survive.  They are made for our climate and weather conditions.   So, turn those stations off completely in the fall, winter, and spring and just water when they look stressed (i.e. droopy leaves, limbs first thing in the morning).

You may have picked up that there’s no exact time that works for every station or even every yard!  Irrigation systems unfortunately aren’t just a turn it on and forget it.  It will take a little tweaking to determine how few minutes the yard will perform well on, and it may need to be changed every year as the trees grow and give out more shade.

Here’s a watering schedule I follow, when irrigation is necessary during the Fall months:

Fall—October, maybe November

Set controllers for 1 start time for all lawn types.

Plant

Exposure

Type of Sprinkler Head

How Often to Water

Runtime (minutes)

St. Augustinesunsprayas needed, max. 1x/wk10 to 15
  rotoras needed, max. 1x/wk15 to 20
 shadesprayrarely, 1x per 2 wks15
  rotorrarely, 1x per 2 wks20
Bermudagrasssunsprayrarely, 1x per 2 wks15
  rotorrarely, 1x per 2 wks20
 shadesprayrarely, 1x per 2 wks10
  rotorrarely, 1x per 2 wks20
Zoysia japonica (wide blade zoysia, El Toro, JaMur, Palisades)sunsprayas needed, max. 1x/wk10 to 15
  rotoras needed, max. 1x/wk20
 shadesprayrarely, 1x per 2 wks15
  rotorrarely, 1x per 2 wks20
Common shrubssunsprayrarely, 1x per 2 wks10 to 15
  rotorrarely, 1x per 2 wks20
 shadesprayrarely, 1x per 2 wks15
  rotorrarely, 1x per 2 wks20
Common groundcoverssunsprayrarely, 1x per 2 wks10-15
  rotorrarely, 1x per 2 wks20
 shadesprayrarely, 1x per 2 wks15
  rotorrarely, 1x per 2 wks20

Texas Native Plant Week

  • October 17, 2016

  • By Jessica Woods

  • Posted In: Water Spot

Native Plant week is October 16 – 22, 2016!

Zexmenia

Zexmenia

So, what is “Texas Native Plant Week?”  The State of Texas established the third week in October as Texas Native Plant Week to recognize the role of native plants in conservation and to provide incentive for school’s to teach children about the importance of native plants.

Did you know that almost every state now has a Native Plant Society or somehow recognizes the value of their native plants?  Locally, we have the Native Plant Society of Texas, Williamson County Chapter.  They meet monthly at the Georgetown Public Library.  If you are interested in learning more about native plants, visit their websitewww.npsot.org

I love natives, and know that native plants are good to incorporate into your garden. They are tolerant of our climate, they are favored by wildlife like bees, butterflies and birds; they have fewer disease and insect problems, need less fertilization and water and, in my opinion, they are very attractive and easy to care for.  I would imagine that many of you are like me, when I am doing some landscaping, I am simply looking for plants that survive and are easy to care for.  Right!?!  If a plant doesn’t live on it’s own in my yard after about two weeks of watering to establish it, then I probably won’t be buying it or planting it again!  It has got to be hardy. (hint: native plants are!)

American Beautyberry

American Beautyberry

I bring all this up because fall is a great time to plant native or adapted plants.  The cooler temperatures are ideal for getting the plant established and growing before winter arrives.  (At least I hear winter IS supposed to come this year!)  While the City doesn’t have any program or rebate for removing grass from your yard and installing native plants, you can always do it on your own!  Natives provide many benefits, like:

 

  1. generally taking less maintenance time than grass (no mowing or edging, less water and fertilizer);
  2. provide a cooling effect and lower temperatures in your yard due to the plants being living organisms (places with concrete or rock tend to be much hotter);
  3. helps prevent erosion by having a root system to hold down surrounding soil;
  4. gives you something beautiful to look at (aka stress relief);
  5. provides some type of benefit (food source, habitat) to insects or birds; and
  6. provides oxygen for us to breathe!

Don’t forget the City of Austin’s Grow Green program and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center both offer searchable database of native and adaptive plants.  They are amazing resources to help you find the perfect plant for “that spot” in your yard!

Happy Planting!

 

Imagine a Day Without Water

For this blog, I’m going to take a different approach and not talk specifically about conservation, but more about water in general.  The fact that most Americans take water, and the systems that bring it to and from homes and businesses, for granted. We turn on the tap,idww2016_logohighdef1 and safe drinking water reliably comes out. We flush the toilet, and don’t have to think twice about how that wastewater will be taken away and safely treated before it is returned to the environment.

But could you imagine a day without water?  Without safe, reliable water and wastewater service?

A day without water mean no water comes out of your tap to brush your teeth. When you flush the toilet, nothing happens. It means firefighters have no water to put out fires, farmers couldn’t water their crops, and doctors couldn’t wash their hands before they treat patients.

A day without water is nothing short of a crisis.

While unimaginable for most of us, there are communities that have lived without water, without the essential systems that bring water to and from their homes and businesses. The tragedy in Flint, Michigan has dominated news coverage for months. Epic drought in California has dried up ground water sources, causing some residents to relocate because they couldn’t live in a community without water. Overwhelmed wastewater systems have habitually forced beach closures along the Great Lakes because of unsanitary sewer runoff. Flooding and other natural disasters have knocked out water and wastewater service in communities from Texas to South Carolina to West Virginia.

America can do better.

The problems that face our drinking water and wastewater systems are multi-faceted. Systems have been underfunded for too long. The infrastructure is aging and in need of investment, while drought, flooding, and climate change all place extra pressure on our water and wastewater systems. Different regions face different water challenges, so the solutions to strengthen our drinking water and wastewater systems must be locally driven. But reinvestment in our water must be a national priority.

The good news is while the challenges are great, our capacity for innovation is greater.

Investing in our drinking water and wastewater systems, secures a bright and prosperous future for generations to come. We need to invest in our local water systems. Public officials at the local, state, and national level must prioritize investment in water, because no American should ever have to live a day without water.

Public private partnerships play an important role in building the drinking water and wastewater systems of tomorrow. Innovation is driving the water sector, and will allow us to build modern, energy efficient, and environmentally advanced systems that will sustain communities for generations to come.

None of this will be easy work, and nothing can be taken for granted. But water is too essential to ignore the crisis in front of us. We need to prioritize building stronger water and wastewater systems now so no community in America has to imagine living a day without water.

Here in Round Rock, we want to offer you, our residents, a peek into the City’s water infrastructure.  We’re hosting a free tour of the City’s water treatment plant on September 15, 2016, at 5:30pm.  Space is limited.  To sign up for the tour email the Water Plant Manager to reserve a spot and get directions.

We will also have tables at the Round Rock library on September 15th between 10am – 4pm to provide information and goodies about how to keep our water clean, abundant, and healthy.  There will be representatives from the City’s water utility, wastewater utility, water conservation, and stormwater programs available to talk to, ask questions to, and learn more about this resource we can’t live without!

 

Light, Type of Heads, and Beds, Oh My!

Today’s blog talks about what is the most important aspects of irrigation, but probably the most overlooked. SmartIrrMonth I’m referring to efficient scheduling of the irrigation system, based on the amount of sunlight in your yard, the sprinkler head type, and to a lesser degree, the plant types in your yard.

These three items require some consideration when entering in how many minutes you are setting each station for—there’s no point in having specialized heads, a shady yard, and native plants if everything is going to run for 20 minutes no matter what it is.  Unfortunately, I see that happen a lot.  Then folks wonder why areas are brown or plants are dying.  (There’s also the consideration of soil type and soil depth; we’re not going to get into that here, but it certainly does play a huge role in irrigation amounts.)

grass st augustine

shade means less water 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

As I’ve talked about in an earlier blog, there are two main sprinkler head typesrotor and spray.  There is also drip irrigation, which technically has no head at all!  Rotor heads, if you remember, rotate, so they are not watering the same area the entire time they are running, therefore, they need to run for a longer period of time than spray heads.  The minimum I typically recommend running them for is 15 minutes, and that’s in a shady area.  Usually between 25-35 minutes is a good time for sunnier areas with turfgrass.

Since spray heads are stationary, they pop-up and stay watering the same spot the entire time, they can run for a shorter amount of time than rotors.  I usually recommend between 6 -15 minutes for those stations, depending on the plant material and amount of sunlight, with the 15 minutes being for areas in full sun and turfgrass.

Drip irrigation is different.  Drip typically emits water very slowly, very minimally, so it oftentimes needs to run for longer periods—30 minutes at minimum or much longer in many cases.  I caution you to know how many gallons per minute your drip is using before you just set it for an hour.  I’ve seen drip that was using 20 gallons per minute, which is just as much as “traditional” spray zones!  Unfortunately it caused very high water usage at the property before it was discovered.

3110 Carnousty St6

rocks and native plants mean less water

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, and decks don’t grow.  Pools don’t need to be filled by the sprinklers (I’ve seen plenty of sprinkler heads spraying directly into pools!).  Trees have usually been growing there longer than you’ve lived there, so they typically don’t need the extra water.

Native plants, established shrubs, or other established perennials do not, I repeat, do not need the same amount of water as the grass.  That’s why you’ve planted them—they are native!  They are made for our climate and weather conditions.  They will survive without being irrigated twice per week.  I can’t count how many times I see native plants being watered more than the grass.  It’s counter intuitive to the reason for using natives.  So, turn those stations off completely and just water when they look completely stressed out.  (I’ll get down from my soapbox now.)

IMG_1106

natural areas don’t need 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.  I recommended between 6-8 minutes regardless of if it’s sun or shade.  They really just don’t need it.  Many natives do best in dry, hot conditions and die with too wet soil.

Turfgrass is a little tricky too.  A lot of Bermuda grass gets planted here, yet is watered just as much as any other grass (namely, St Augustine).  What I said about native plants is true about Bermuda too, you’re growing it because it’s drought tolerant: it doesn’t need to be watered as much.  Bermuda grass that’s overwatered tends to get a lot of weeds growing in it.  If you have Bermuda, I recommend cutting back the watering time to once per week.  Let it perform.  Yes, Bermuda goes dormant in times of drought, but it’s not dead.  It will green up when it rains or receives irrigation.  It looks better with rainwater though.  Also, Bermuda is not going to survive in shady areas, it will thin out and eventually die.  It requires full sun to really thrive.

St Augustine grass has such a bad reputation as a water hog, but I don’t buy into it.  It’s not setting the controller, the yard owners are!  St Augustine does great in areas with partial sun or partial shade.  I’ve seen it look really good in full sun too, with less water than you may think.  It will also thin out in full shade areas, but does better than most grasses.  Ideally, St Augustine should be kept at 3-4” tall when it’s being cut to keep the soil from drying out.  I water my St Augustine yard with rotor heads for 20 minutes and it’s looking great.

You may have picked up that there’s no exact time that works for every station or even every yard!  Irrigation systems unfortunately aren’t just a turn it on and forget it 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.

I have some specific recommendations on runtimes; you can access it here.  It’s a good place to start, when setting your controller runtimes, then make changes from there if areas may need more or less water.

Let’s keep using our water smartly!

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!

 

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.

 

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

  • May 5, 2016

  • By Jessica Woods

  • Posted In: Water Spot

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!