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.

Use Your Head

We’re still in Smart Irrigation month, and I want to share our recent video on the three main types of sprinkler heads.SmartIrrMonth  It is important to know which kind or kinds you have, because the type of sprinkler head you have, determines how long the station (or zone) should be set to run.  Some heads need a longer time than others for a variety of reasons.

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 cased very high water usage at the property before it was discovered.

Watch our latest Water Wise and I hope you make adjustments, as needed, to your watering schedule!

 

 

Sprinkler System Check-Ups

Can you believe it’s July already??  July is “Smart Irrigation Month” deemed so by the SmartIrrMonthIrrigation Association since 2005, because that’s typically when the hottest temperatures occur.  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.

It’s been a slightly different year already: we haven’t had a 100-degree day yet!  We’ve only had a handful of 90-degree days!  And, we’ve been inundated with rainfall all throughout May and June (which have refilled the lakes! Yay!); so we really haven’t needed to use the irrigation system at all so far this year.

That’s all great news!  But now that it’s becoming increasingly hot and muggy, I know we are itching to turn on those sprinklers!  Before you do, I advise you to do a quick check of the system, to make sure it’s working properly.  Details of how to this are below:

Performing a check of the irrigation system, (aka an Irrigation Evaluation, or Irrigation Audit) is the cornerstone for maintaining the system.  If you are a direct water customer of Round Rock, Water Conservation staff (that’s me) will schedule and do this for you; however, it’s simple enough that you could do it yourself—and it’s highly recommended to check you system monthly!  I recently found a broken head on my own system that I hadn’t noticed or even realized was there, that got hit when the grass was last mowed.   So, how do we check it?

  1. First you need to go to the controller and turn the dial to “test” or “system test” if that option is there (Rainbird controllers have this). If you have this option, great!  The number you see in the display are minutes that, once started, will run each station for x minutes and then turn off.  A good default number is 2 minutes.  After selecting 2 minutes, push the manual start button on the controller to begin the system test.
    1. If you DO NOT have the “test” option on your controller, you can simply program one in. Just choose a program that you are not using for your normal watering cycle—probably the C program.  You don’t need to enter in start times or water days, only watering times; so for each of your stations, enter a runtime of 2 minutes.  Then start the program manually.
  2. Once the system is running, you are looking for problems, issues like sprinkler heads turned the wrong way and spraying the street, rather than the grass. Or heads that do not pop-up over the grass (that’s why there’s that dry spot!), or heads that are clogged, and no water is coming out of them. You could also look for leaking heads, broken nozzles, and other leaks.  For an idea of what some of this looks like, see my blog “What is Water Waste?” from last month.
    1. The simplest, and most worthwhile, thing to fix is misdirected heads; most of them can simply be turned to face the appropriate direction by using your hand to grab the head (essentially the neck) and physically turn it. This prevents water waste, poor coverage, and ensures the water is used, rather than running off the property; all of which are positives for you and your property.
    2. Nozzles that are clogged are easily be cleaned out (when the system is turned off!). Unscrew the nozzle, rinse it and the filter off, and screw it back on.  You may use an old toothbrush or toothpick to clean out the emitter where the water sprays out of the nozzle, it’s pretty small.  Once screwed back on, turn the system on to make sure you have put it on facing the correct direction and it’s watering what it needs to be.
    3. Low heads or heads that do not pop-up over the grass is due to either too tall grass, which is really not a bad thing, usually, or more likely, the heads have settled over time and just sunk into the ground. They need to be replaced with taller heads in order to have better coverage—to get the water out far enough to water what’s it’s supposed to.  You can replace this head yourself with a taller head (they are sold by height in inches, so if you have a 4” head currently, you may increase to a 6”), or depending on the amount of low heads, you may hire a licensed irrigator to do this, as there is a degree of professionalism needed.  You don’t want the heads sticking up over the grass and become a hazard when the grass is mowed.

So that’s the basics of performing a system check!  Do it monthly to actually see how the system is working, that what is supposed to be watered is actually being watered, AND, most importantly, make repairs and adjustments to the system to keep it running efficiently!

Lawn Problems

white_patchTF2_ltc

White Patch disease

Happy Summer!  Now that the rains have slightly slowed down, and the sun is out (and the wonderful humidity is here), I’ve been seeing more people watering their yards and also hearing questions like “why is my grass brown?

Before we dive into that, I want to fully acknowledge that I’m not a plant disease expert and I can’t diagnose many problems…but I can pick out a few!  So, I wanted to point you to some good resources that may help you determine what type of lawn problem you’re having and offer solutions on how to fix it.

I also want to point out that a lot of plant problems come from having too much water (cough, rain, over irrigating, cough) and look surprisingly similar to problems with not enough water.  Too much water do just as much damage as not enough water (like drowning a plant, keeping the roots too wet, fungal and rotting disease); so the answer isn’t always to throw more water on the yard.  Especially with the continued rains, the soil still isn’t dried out enough to really need additional water yet.

summer-patch-21

Summer Patch disease

The turf and disease experts in the state are undoubtedly the Aggies.  When I last checked, their AggieTurf website was undergoing updates and expected to be up and running by July 2015.  However, the old site is still there and has some great information and some decent pictures of turf disease.  The Texas A&M turf researchers tend to be very analytical and formal with their responses, which makes some of their site not so easy reading.  They are also quick to provide information on which chemicals to use, which I hope are always used as a last resort.

The City ogrow_green_program_banner_9f Austin’s Grow Green program has a much easier to understand format, by using a chart that you basically answer simple questions to find the type of lawn disease you have.  Their worksheet also tells you what is causing the issue and how to solve it, in a more friendly way.  The Grow Green program offers a variety of methods—from organic, to so quite as organic!

Good luck keeping those lawns green!

Watering in the Rain

Lots of rain happening of late, thanks to El Nino! It has delayed any watering in rain resizedoutdoor watering so far this year, which is great. If you happened to turn your irrigation system controller on before the rains came, hopefully you have a rain sensor (a.k.a. rain shut-off device) or other weather system that will prevent your sprinkler system from actually running while it’s raining. You don’t want to water in the rain! Let’s be honest, besides it being a waste of water, it really makes you look silly.

The Water Conservation program has been offering a rebate for rain sensors, freeze sensors, and other weather technology as part of our efficient irrigation rebate program for several years now. If you don’t have a rain sensor on your irrigation system, now’s the time to get one!

Now, a rain sensor like the one pictured, doesn’t predict when it’s going to rain. What it does is sense when rain is actually falling and stop the sprinklers from running if they are currently running, rain shut-offOR prevent them from turning on if they are scheduled to turn on shortly after the rain happens. Once the sensor dries out, it will allow the sprinklers to continue to operate according to its normal schedule.

There are sensors on the market that do predict, using live weather data, if it’s going to rain in our area, and prevent the sprinkler system from turning on. Those are slightly more expensive then the little one pictured above, but may be worth it to you. They use live weather data and your location (usually a zip code, address or GPS coordinates) to see if rain is expected for you and doesn’t allow the system to run if the chance of rain is greater than X percent. That X is usually a number you can adjust — like 30 percent. The irrigation rebate applies to this technology too.

So, install those rain shut-offs and let Mother Nature water the yard for you!

For more on rain sensors, watch my video!

 

Lake Georgetown: Go See!

wildflowers at Lake Georgetown April 2015

wildflowers

The weather has been hit or miss so far this spring for getting a little spring cleaning yard work done, but I’m not going to complain about the wet weekends!!  The wildflowers have been gorgeous (check out my pictures) AND the rain has meant we haven’t had to turn on our sprinklers yet this year, which is great.

Even though we’ve had some pretty consistent rain, the lake levels haven’t come up too much.  Lake Georgetown (Round Rock’s main water source) is holding pretty steady at 64% full.  It’s a little higher than it was last year at this time, but still, not full!  Lake Stillhouse Hollow has come up a little with the recent rain, is at 67% full.

If you haven’t been to Lake Georgetown in a while, I encourage you to go.  It’s not too far, I drove over to take these pictures for this article. (What can I say, it was a nice day and I needed a current picture!)  Simply take IH-35 north tLake Georgetown flower pico the HWY 29 exit in Georgetown, head west (turn left at light).  Turn Right onto DB Woods road and follow the signs to the scenic overlook or one of the many parks in the area.  It’s great to actually see your drinking water source in person AND the area has a lot to offer recreation-wise!

On the picture that actually shows the lake, the portion I’ve circled is a screen on an intake pipe.  This is basically like the City’s straws that are in the lake, sucking the water up and transporting it to our water treatment plant.  The screen is what keeps out fish, trash, and other large debris from entering into the treatment plant.  This is supposed to be underwater!  That gives you an idea how low it is.

Lake Georgetown edited April 2015

City water intakes at Lake Georgetown

Because of the continuing low lakes levels, the Brazos River Authority has asked that all users of these lakes reduce their water use, so that’s why Round Rock and Georgetown have enacted their Drought Contingency Plans for the last year and a half.  We are still under Stage 1 watering restrictions.  This means if and when you water your yard, it can only happen on your assigned water days:

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

skink

Remember, when setting your sprinkler controller for the spring, it’s best to start low and slow; watering once per week or less is plenty for this time for year.  When it starts to actually get hot, then increase the times.

Need more detailed information about the water restrictions?  Visit the City website: www.roundrocktexas.gov/departments/utilities-and-environmental-services/water/drought-restrictions/

NEW Lawn Aeration Rebate!

All the late winter rains have been great, and I can’t wait to see all of the wildflowers that should soon be blooming! aeration Hopefully, most of the rain did some good on your property, rather than just runoff.  One way to keep water on your lawn and help you have a stronger, healthier yard, is aeration.  I know I’ve spoken about aeration before, but will do it again!  It’s just so good for the soil!

Lawn aeration is a great way to help your lawn stay viable and healthy, it encourages deep root growth of the grass by providing space for the roots to grow, which helps with drought tolerance.  With more space, the water that is applied to the lawn (either rain or sprinklers) will now go down further into the soil, rather than running off.  I highly encourage everyone to have their lawn aerated annually to promote the root growth, help erase some of the compaction issues that some of our lawns face (I know I walk on the same trail in my backyard all the time, which only adds to compaction), and help with some thatch issues.  This all boils down to the fact that you won’t have to water as much, which is a huge benefit too…we ARE still in a drought.

The picture to the right shows the soil cores that are removed from a lawn during the aeration process.

To make getting your lawn aerated a little more lucrative, the Water Conservation Program is introducing a new rebate program for a limited time this spring/summer–a lawn aeration rebate!  The rebate is up to $50 rebated back to you, after you have your lawn aerated.  You can rent a machine and do it yourself (but they are pretty heavy!) or hire someone or a lawn company to do it for you.  Simply fill out the application and submit it along with a copy of the paid invoice for the service.

The rebate is only a pilot, to see how much interest there is in it, so no applications will be accepted after August 30, 2015.