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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Add Mulch for a Mountain of Benefits

Mulching the bare soil around plants is a major part of basic water conservation and for the health of the plant and soil.  It should be the last step when new planting is done.  I’m sure you know that a healthy layer of mulch keeps weeds from growing, helps reduce water loss due to evaporation, keeps the soil cooler, and (depending on the type you install) will break-down in time to add nutrients to the soil, and protect against harsh weather in winter, recycle local materials, are loaded with nutrients, lock together and stay in place well, breathe properly and break down fairly quickly to feed microbes in the soil…WOW!

That’s a lot that just a little layer of mulch can do.  But, there are some good and bad choices.  I’m going to liberally borrow from The Dirt Doctor, local Organic Gardener Howard Garrett, and his expertise on mulch.  Here’s a rundown for you and some tips that might help choose the best mulch for your yard.

The Good…

  • Shredded native mulches are the best choices; they provide all the benefits listed above.  As a Round Rock water customer, you can get FREE hardwood mulch at our brush recycling center!

    shredded hardwood bark mulch

  • Pecan shell mulch is a fairly good choice if it is partially composted first. Fresh, new shells don’t behave very well. Like pine bark, they blow and wash around and fresh shells usually have some pecan meat left that may attract fire ants.  Boo.
  • Partially completed compost is good mulch. When ingredients are still identifiable this compost shouldn’t be used in bed preparation, but it is good to use as a topdressing mulch.
  • Shredded hardwood bark is a good mulch. It is not as good as shredded tree trimmings because of much less nitrogen. As opposed to shredded tree trimmings, there is little protein tissue (buds, stems, cambium, leaves, etc.) that is the source of nitrogen and other nutrients.
  • Pine straw or pine needles do not have the same natural chemical issues as pine bark. Plus they stay in place and work well as mulch. Only issue is that this mulch can look out of place if no pine trees are growing on the site. This is an excellent mulch for the vegetable garden because it breaks down quickly and effectively helps feed the soil.
  • Lava gravel is an excellent mulch if you like the look. It helps grow plants and helps keep them healthy.

The Bad…

  • The worst choice – rubber mulch made from ground up tires. It’s full of toxic chemicals, doesn’t break down to feed microbes, and holds heat that will damage microbes and plants. This product should never be used.

    rubber mulch

  • The second worst mulch – colored mulch. These red and black products are all over the place in the marketplace but should not be used. Some of the dyes used in these products are very questionable in toxicity, but there are more serious problems. These “mulches” are made from ground-up wood such as siding, pallets, lumber, etc. These things are all carbon and totally unbalanced due to lack of protein/nitrogen. They not only don’t feed the soil properly, they actually rob nitrogen from microbes and soil health.
  • Cocoa mulch, also a bad one. It smells good, but is expensive and very dangerous to dogs. Don’t use.
  • Cypress breaks down very slowly. That’s not what we want. The rotting of mulch is an important source of natural fertility. Cypress also tends to fuse together and not breathe properly. The way it is harvested from wetlands and shipped across the country is an environmental problem. Not a good choice.
  • Pine bark, also not the worse, but not the best.  The large nuggets are better than the medium and fine-textured products since they will at least stay in place a little better. The small pieces blow and wash away to eliminate the benefit and create a maintenance problem. Plus, all pine bark products contain natural chemicals that are not good for soil health or plant growth.

    bad “volcano” mulching

The Ugly…

  • Volcano type mulching looks horrible and because it is piled high up on the tree trunk, the flare is completely covered and the moisture kept on the trunk is highly detrimental to the tree.  Tree flares should always be exposed (of course) and proper mulching should not be piled up on stems and trunks of plants.
  • Plastic barriers.  Shredded tree trimmings are an excellent mulch choice, but when plastic is used under it, the benefits are eliminated.  Mulches should touch the soil so that their breakdown into humus feeds the life in the soil.  Also the plastic prevents water from soaking into the ground, which is exactly the opposite of what we want!

 

Good luck in picking out the best option for your yard!  I have used the City’s free much for over 10 years now in my yard with no issues.  It looks great!  I replace it annually since it does break down and layer it around trees and in beds about 3-4 inches deep.

 

Celebrate and Save Water this Weekend

This holiday weekend, you can double-dip on savings on products to help you reduce your water use at your home or business.  This is the second annual Lawn and Garden Water Smart Tax Holiday!

This Memorial Day Weekend, May 27-29, 2017, consumers can purchase water saving items without paying sales tax.  Water saving items, as defined by the Texas Comptroller, can include any plant product, any product with a WaterSense label, mulch, rain water collection systems, and much more!  There is no limit to how many items you can purchase.

This holiday was established in 2016 to encourage Texans to be Water Smart!  Texas comptroller Glenn Hegar said, “Ensuring Texans have an adequate supply of water is fundamental if we want to continue creating jobs and growing the economy,” he continued. “The Tax Holiday helps Texas consumers be water smart, saving money and water in their outdoor landscapes.”

The categories of products is pretty broad; you can buy items tax free during the holiday that are used or planted for:

  • conserving or retaining groundwater;
  • recharging water tables; or
  • decreasing ambient air temperature, and so limiting water evaporation.

Examples of items that qualify for the exemption include:

  • a soaker or drip-irrigation hose
  • a moisture control for a sprinkler or irrigation system
  • mulch
  • a rain barrel or an alternative rain and moisture collection system
  • a permeable ground cover surface that allows water to reach underground basins, aquifers or water collection points
  • plants, trees and grasses
  • water-saving surfactants
  • soil and compost

If you’d like more information on the products and plants you can purchase tax-free this weekend, visit landscapetexas.org or the Texas Comptroller’s website.

Remember, the City’s Water Conservation program offers rebates on many water-saving and WaterSense labeled items.  And residents can always pick up free mulch from the brush recycling center.