Memorial Weekend = Smart Water Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Make this the month you start saving more!

 

 

 

Take the Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation!

On this blog, I’m going to let our Mayor, Alan McGraw, do the talking for me!  Give a listen about why saving water is important and then go to mywaterpledge.com to sign up for the challenge and help Round Rock be the most water conserving city in the U.S.A.!

By saving water, our community saves energy, money, and valuable resources. That’s why he and I are encouraging you to take the National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, April 1-30. By making a simple pledge to save water and reduce pollution, you are not only doing your part for our community – you can win any of hundreds of prizes, including a Toyota Prius, Home Improvement Store Gift Cards, Toro Smart Irrigation Controllers, and more.

Plus the pledge helps further our City’s goal of reducing our water consumption and being the most efficient city in Central Texas, if not all of Texas!  Let’s show the other cities around the nation how Round Rock takes care of our planet. Make your pledge throughout the month of April at mywaterpledge.com

Rain Barrel Sale Begins Now!

springsaver rainbarrel_9-9-14

50-gallon Spring Saver

The City’s Water Conservation Program is having a rain barrel sale!  The barrels are sold by pre-order, so you place the order for the barrels online at www.cityrainbarrelprogram.org, then come pick them up on a specific day.  There is no limit on the quantity of barrels you may order, and sale isn’t limited to Round Rock residents, anyone can purchase one; however the last day to order is May 7, 2016.

A variety of sizes of rain barrels are being offered, as well as diverters to make it easier to get the water from your gutter downspout into the barrel:

  • 50-gallon Spring Saver, 6 color choices, $64.99; black-colored barrel is $59.99
  • 54-gallon Rain Saver, 3 color choices, $84.99
  • Classic 100-gallon, 28 colors, $184.99
  • Classic 150-gallon tank, 28 colors, $239.95
  • Classic 250-gallon tank, 28 colors, $344.95
  • Water diverter kits for $15.99 – $21.99
rainsaver rainbarrel_9-9-14

54-gallon Rain Saver

The barrel distribution will happen on Saturday, May 14th at the Dell Diamond’s northeast parking lot.  Once you make your purchase, you’ll be emailed all the relevant pick-up information.  Also, please make plans to have a vehicle the barrels will fit into!

To pre-order and full details:  www.cityrainbarrelprogram.org

Barrels purchased at this event ARE eligible for the City’s rainwater rebate. There will be applications for the rebate provided at the distribution.  Please note: you must be a direct City of Round Rock water customer in order to receive the rebate.  This means you pay your water bill to the City, not a MUD.

A limited selection of barrels will be available for sale on May 14th, so plan ahead and purchase yours today to ensure you get the colors you want; otherwise you can take your chances and show up to purchase whatever is on hand the day of.

Why collect rainwater??  I’ve talked about it in previous posts, and condense the “whys” here:

  1. Rainwater is much better for plants than the municipal water supply (it’s generally higher in nitrogen and it’s softer water), which probably is THE main reason people collect it.
    classic rainbarrel_9-9-14

    100-gallon Classic

  2. However, an often overlooked, and just as good reason is for erosion control. You don’t have to actually “use” the water collected, but if you could at least slow it down on your property; that would aid in reducing the amount of erosion your property is subjected to.  You can collect the water and then just release it, slowly, over your yard a few days after the rain event. Then the barrel(s) is empty and ready to collect the next rain event and you don’t have any worries about mosquitos!
  3. It’s free, and
  4. Tax-exempt! The water falling from the sky is free, and the purchase of collection containers has been tax-exempt in Texas since 2001.  To assist you with collecting this precious resource, the City of Round Rock has a rebate for installing water collection tanks or barrels. (This rebate is available for direct City of Round Rock water customers only.)

Recharge Your Battery

battery backup location

Hunter Controller battery location

Now is a great time to replace the back-up battery inside your irrigation controller.  What?  You didn’t know there WAS a battery (or place) for a battery in your control box, since it is plugged into the wall?!?!    Well…you’re not the only one!!  Most people don’t realize there is a place for you to install a 9-volt battery in the controller.

A back-up battery will not operate your controller, however, it will hold your program settings in case of a power outage.  If (really, we should say when) your controller loses power and you have no battery, or a dead battery, many controllers will reset to factory default program settings.  Default settings will vary by brand and model, but often times they will be 10 minutes/zone, 7 days/week, with multiple start times.  Unfortunately, people usually don’t realize this has occurred until they receive the high water bill, which could be 30 days down the road.  You can prevent that from happening by installing a back-up battery.

Raindial controller battery location

Rain Dial controller battery location

The battery spot is usually behind the controller face in most brands of controllers (Hunter, Rainbird, and Irritrol or Rain Dial are all like this).  See the pictures.  You simply need to “open” or flip over the face of the controller.  There are little finger grooves to the right-side of the controller face that allows you to open and turn it, much like turning the page of a book.  There will be a little pocket for the battery to connect into.  Most controllers require a 9-volt battery.

So, when replacing your smoke detector batteries annually, I recommend you add the irrigation controller battery to the list!  This may save you money, frustration, and some water down the road.

 

Rainbird battery location, slides in

Rainbird battery location, slides in

 

 

Tis the Season for Water Smart gifts

This holiday season, if you happen to be getting anyone on your list a new appliance, don’t forget to think about water (and energy) efficiency.washing machine  Appliances that have the Energy Star label or WaterSense label are better choices, simply because you know that they will retain their water an/or energy efficiency over the lifespan of the appliance.  So, it’s kinda like the gift that keeps on giving!

The City’s water conservation program has a rebate for the purchase of new efficient clothes washers, if they meet the program criteria, which is pretty easy.  Find out about the rebate here.

New, efficient washers are a good investment, as they account for 22% of the water use inside our homes. By replacing older models with new, front-loading efficient washers, water use can be reduced by 15 – 40%, depending on how old your previous washer is. Energy Star labeled washers use 20% less energy, 35% less water, and have larger wash tubs, which means fewer loads and less detergent use.toilet-clip-art

There’s rebates for efficient toilets too!  That’s a really water smart gift, because, not only does a new toilet save water, it can also help reduce water water charges…so it saves year-round!  The rebate details can be found by following this link.  To qualify, the new toilet(s) must be WaterSense labeled (very easy to find!) and your house must have been built before 2006.

Toilets are the largest water-using fixture inside a property; by replacing old, inefficient toilets with more efficient 1.28 gallon per flush (or less!), commodes, you can save up to 4,000 thousand gallons of water per toilet, per year!  That’s amazing!

Happy shopping!

 

Smart Controllers

Now is the time of year to think about turning off your sprinkler system, if you haven’t already.  Remember, it’s about to be winter, plants go dormant, we’re having regular rainfall, cooler temps… you know all this.

one type of smart controller

one type of smart controller

So, it may seem like a strange time to think about sprinklers, but I wanted to see if you knew the City’s water conservation program offers rebates on various items to help make your sprinkler system more efficient?  One of those items is a smart, weather-based controller.

So, what is a smart controller?  Simply put, it’s a controller that takes into account the current weather, the weather forecast, the type of sprinkler head (drip, spray, rotor, etc), the plant material (grass, shrubs, trees, etc), and probably the slope of the yard, and the soil type to come up with a watering schedule that is truly personalized for your yard.  No more guessing how much time you need to set for each station!

The smart controller will come up with a personalized schedule, though it probably will need some tweaks.  Full-disclosure, I installed a smart controller at my own house back in March or April of this year.  However, with all the rain this spring, it didn’t actually run until July and at that point I really thought is was watering some areas way too long.  I had to go into the application on my phone and adjust some settings to reduce watering time.  However, I will say that my highest water bill this summer was in August for 8,200 gallons–so not bad at all!  The smart controller I have estimates the amount of water used (in gallons) each time it waters, and the numbers it was reporting for my yard were very high.  The estimate of gallons used isn’t too accurate in my case.

But, back to the point; really, it’s ideal to water when the plants actually NEED the water, not just because it’s a Wednesday (or whatever day of the week your controller is set for).  AND, since we’re not in water restrictions, this is the ideal time to try out one of these controllers.  The controller will determine when it’s best to water and for how long, although they all have options to select specific days to water if/when we are under water restrictions.  Maybe all the zones won’t be watered on the same day, that’s the beauty of these controllers.  ILogo-WaterSenset’s watering to the plant, not to a schedule.

Many smart controllers are also designed to be used over WiFi: on home computers, phones, tablets…which may make it easier to control and set up.  No more trying to figure out all those buttons, knobs, and programs!  Through the internet connection, or an on-site weather station, they determine the current weather conditions to come up with the watering schedule.

If your interested has been peaked in smart controller, visit the WaterSense website to learn more, and find a list of WaterSense approved controllers, that are also eligible for the City’s irrigation rebate.  The rebate expires when funding runs out, but I don’t anticipate that happening any time before August 2016.

Let’s start watering smart in 2016!

My water bill is how much??

I know I have heard this too many times this summer,faucet-with-dollar-sign-234x300 “there’s NO WAY I used this much water!”  “It’s impossible!”  “The meter must be wrong,” or some version of  “the City isn’t really reading the meters, but estimating.”  Well, let me tell you, it IS possible to use a lot of water (I’m talking 30,000 gallons, 50,000 gallons, 70,000 gallons…or more!).  I’ve seen it.  A lot.  I have seen it due to leaks, or from sprinkler systems, but I’ve never seen it from someone stealing water from their neighbor!  (ha!  People say that a lot too.)

I say this with 15 years of experience behind me doing this type of work.  So, not just this year, but over many years of looking
at sprinkler systems and how they are set and reading water meters.  I still get surprised that people are surprised to find out that high water use is possible and the City ISN’T wrong.  We just really use more water than we realize we do, especially when it comes to sprinkler systems.  This really boils down to an education problem.

When we receive our bill, we automatically look at how much we owe, right?!?  I know I do.  That’s what really affects me anyway, how much do I owe the City?  What we really need to look at is what’s included in that final cost AND actually look at the gallons of water that we used.  That will tell you much more than the amount you owe.

On Round Rock’s water bill, what’s also included in that cost (besides the water), is wastewater (sewer) charges, garwater use chartbage and recycling collection, stormwater (or drainage) fees, and taxes.  The water portion of the cost is maybe less than half of what the actual amount is you owe.

Look at that little graph. That shows you the gallons of water your household has used that month, and the past several months.  It’s also under the “water” section of the bill on the back.  That’s a better way to judge how much water you are using each month.  [Of note, a very average amount of water used each month is 2,000 gallons per person, per month.  Again, that’s pretty average.]  If you are using more than that for your family, you may check toil
ets for leaks, or consider replacing any old toilets with new, efficient ones (remember, the City has a rebate for that), and bring your water use down.

Also, the graph should, ideally, be shaped like the one in picture, that’s what we expect to see.  It’s a bell curve:  Low use in the winter, a little higher in spring, peaking–the highest–in summer with the highest month usually August or September, then lower in fall and back to lowest in winter.  That’s a water use curve that is expected and means you are paying attention to the seasons, and the weather patterns and not using water outdoors when not needed (winter).

The water rates will go up, so just looking at the dollar amount isn’t always helpful, or provides any insight to what you’re using.  I challenge you to look at your bill in more detail this month!

 

 

Reclaimed, Reused, Recycled Water…What?

Maybe you’ve heard of at least one of the water types mentioned in the title?  Recycled water… Reclaimed water… Or reuse water.  Are you wondering “What’s the difference between these types ofreuse station waters?  Is there any difference?  And what does that even mean?”

Great news!  I’m going to answer those burning questions now!

Truth be told, they are all really the same thing.  It’s just different ways to call the water from the wastewater treatment plant after it’s been cleaned up.  Normal procedure is that the City cleans up the wastewater (aka sewer water) and then releases it into Brushy Creek so that it can flow downstream, keep the aquatic life alive that is living in the creek, and also be withdrawn by other water users downstream.  (The state has regulations on what “clean” actually means, so it won’t make anyone sick or cause pollution.)

Instead of releasing all the cleaned wastewater into the creek, the City has made the recycled water available in select areas of town for landscape irrigation, at a lower cost than the treated drinking water that is traditionally used to water landscapes.  Some City parks, neighborhoods, and businesses have been using this recycled water for irrigation for a couple of years now!  This is a really good thing, because it means less of our valuable drinking water is being poured on the ground to water the landscape.  This helps with the City’s conservation efforts, by increasing the amount of potable (drinking) water that we have available.reuse tank

The recycled water is only available in certain areas of town (on the east side of I-35), close to where the recycled water line is in the ground.  By the way, the City’s wastewater treatment plant is on the south side of Hwy 79, nearly across the street from the Dell Diamond.  So, the recycled water line is coming out of the plant, under Hwy 79, and travels north through Old Settlers Park up toward University Boulevard.  You can see the large recycled water elevated storage tank off at University Boulevard and Sandy Brook Drive, close to the Texas State University campus.  It has a purple-ish stripe along the top of the tank.  The purple color means it’s not drinking water.

The City also has a new re-use/cycled water fill station at Old Settlers Park, just behind the Dell Diamond.  That’s what you see in the top picture.  This water is available FREE of charge to customers for commercial irrigation, development, or construction use only.  The contractor simply has to have a vehicle to put the water in (like a tank truck) and have the equipment to open the purple fire hydrant and hook up their truck to take the water.

The City envisions that developers and construction crews, or even landscapers, will use this water during new construction to keep the dust down, or water new landscaping, or whatever other use that they would normally use treated drinking water for.  Again, that’s good for our city and for conservation, in that expensive, clean, potable water that isn’t being used for drinking or health or safety purposes (cooking, cleaning), isn’t being wasted.  It essentially extends our drinking water supply, which is a huge necessity in times of drought and with our continued population growth.

How Much Water?

The heat is on, Finally!…or maybe you’re thinking more like me, and bring back the rain!  Well, in the last few weeks with no rain and still none in the forecasts, our water in glasses increasingwater usage has gone up.  It’s increased.  I know mine has at my house, I’ve had to water the yard some; and in the City as a whole, usage has doubled what we used during the first part of the year.

Have you wondered “Just HOW MUCH water does the City use?”  And I don’t mean the City offices, I mean all of us that live and work here…all our homes, apartments, businesses…well, it really adds up to millions of gallons of water used everyday.  How many millions exactly depends on lots of things, but the most important is the temperature. (naturally!)

We have this information on the City’s website.  It’s totally accessible, after you choose like 5 different links before getting to that page.  Here’s a handy link to get you right to the page that displays the water usage information.  The City provides daily water use information in a graph, as well as lake levels of the lakes we get our water from (that would be Lakes Georgetown and Stillhouse Hollow).  It’s on the Water page of the Utilities and Environmental Services Department page, way down at the bottom.

Also, this may be more than you want to know, but for the water (and graph) nerds out there, here’s how much water has been used monthly for the last year in Round Rock.  (Since I’m both a water and graph nerd, I feel secure in being able to say that and not offend anyone!)

You can see that water use is low in the winter, and that is how is should be.  It’s what we expect to see.  That’s because fewer people are watering their landscapes (ideally everyone’s sprinklers are turned off, but that isn’t really the case).  The City generally uses between 13 – 15 million gallons of water per day in the winter months.  Summer usage is when we really need to pay attention to how high the use goes to ensure we have the water, have the capability of producing clean water, and distributing the water to everyone that needs it.  Currently, our City usage has been 28 – 34 million gallons of water per day this last month.  That’s a lot of water going onto our lawns!

Enjoy the water data!  And keep being water smart.

Invest in Your Irrigation System

SmartIrrMonthFor this Smart Irrigation Month blog, I’d like to borrow from an article from the Irrigation Association, about what to think about when installing a new system and the upkeep of your current one.

Using an automated irrigation system is one of the best ways to keep your lawn and landscape beautiful and healthy.  Plan carefully for a reliable, flexible irrigation system that can grow and evolve along with your landscaping.

  • Use components that provide flexibility. Different plants have different watering needs, and these needs may change over time. Your system should allow you to apply the right amount of water for each type of plant by the most effective method.
  • Install excess capacity. Irrigation zones are areas that are watered by the same irrigation valve and plumbing. Installing extra connections now makes it easier and less expensive to expand your irrigation system later.
  • Think smart. Include “smart” controls that automatically adjust watering based on rain, soil moisture, evaporation and plant water use.
  • Check water pressure. Low or high pressure can seriously affect sprinkler performance; choose sprinklers based on the water pressure on your site.
  • Buy the best. Use the best components you can afford to minimize future maintenance and total lifetime cost of your system.
  • Meet code requirements. Include the right backflow prevention device for your area. Required by the National Plumbing Code for all irrigation systems, backflow prevention devices prevent irrigation system water from contaminating the water supply.
  • Dig deep. Install lines deep enough to protect them from damage from aeration and other lawn maintenance.
  • Look for savings. Many water utilities offer rebates for certain water-efficient products. Before finalizing your new system, consult with your local water provider.
  • Hire carefully. Even the best irrigation system won’t perform well if installed incorrectly. When looking to hire a designer or irrigator, always get multiple bids, check references, and confirm all vendors are insured and LICENSED.

Smart Irrigation Month is an initiative of the Irrigation Association, a non-profit industry organization dedicated to promoting efficient irrigation. Learn more at www.smartirrigationmonth.org.

To find an IA-certified professional to design, install, maintain or audit your irrigation system, visit www.irrigation.org/hirecertified.