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.

Fix a Leak Week

The week of March 16-20, marks the EPA’s WaterSense program’s Fix a Leak Week to encourage families to check for water leak and drips in their bathrooms, kitchens, and yards–and fix them!

Check out this cute video on how to accomplish this:

 

An easy way to determine if you may have a leak, is to go look at your water water meter and see if the hand on the meter is moving when no water is being used in your house.  You can also look at your water bill usage (look at the gallons, not just the dollars).  If you’re using more than 2,000 gallons per person, per month, in the home, then usage is higher than average and you may want to check for leaks.

Good luck!

Groundwater Awareness Week

Tnatl groundwater awareness week logohis week marks National Groundwater Awareness week, so I wanted to talk about groundwater in general, and some groundwater facts for Round Rock.

Generally speaking:

  1. Groundwater is the water that soaks into the soil from rain or other precipitation and moves downward to fill cracks and other openings in beds of rocks and sand. It is, therefore, a renewable resource, although renewal rates vary greatly according to environmental conditions.
  2. It also is an abundant natural resource.
  3. Of all the freshwater in the world (excluding polar ice caps), 95 percent is groundwater. Surface water (lakes and rivers) only make up three percent of our freshwater.

Round Rock specific:

  • We take groundwater from northern Edwards Aquifer.  This is the same Edwards Aquifer that the City of San Antonio relies on.
  • The City currently has 3 active wells and 3 in reserve;
  • The current water level is 25-ft below the surface, or 175-ft above our pump. Thanks to recent rains, levels have held pretty steady this winter.
  • The City used 688,340,000 gallons of groundwater in 2014 which was 10.69% of the total water produced.
  • On average, we use between 1 and 3 millions gallons per day of groundwater, so a pretty small portion of our daily water use.

You can help recharge the aquifer, by keeping water on your property during rain storms and allowing it to soak into the ground, rather than runoff your property.  This can be accomplished by creating rain gardens, which capture the rain in a low area in your yard and should all soak into the ground within 48-hours.  You can also capture the water in barrels or tanks and then slowly release the water on your yard or landscape a few days after the rain happened.  The whole point is to keep the rain on the yard and not let it run off into the storm sewer.  The rain becomes groundwater, which will penetrate down to the aquifer.

 

It’s Baaack!

springsaver rainbarrel_9-9-14

50-gallon Spring Saver

By “It”, I mean another rain barrel sale!  The Cities of Round Rock & Hutto are working together to promote a rain barrel sale!  It’s by preorder, so you place the order for the barrels online, 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 or Hutto residents.  Anyone can purchase one; however the last day to order is April 24, 2015. 

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

  • 50-gallon Spring Saver, 6 color choices, $64.99
  • 54-gallon Rain Saver, 3 color choices, $84.99
  • Classic 100-gallon, 28 colors, $208.65
  • Water diverter kits for $15.99 or $21
rainsaver rainbarrel_9-9-14

54-gallon Rain Saver

The Barrel distribution will happen on Saturday, May 2nd at the Dell Diamond.  Once you make your purchase, you’ll be emailed all the relevant pick-up information.

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

A very limited selection of barrels will be available for sale on May 2nd, so plan ahead and purchase yours today to ensure you get the colors you want! 

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.)