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.)

Bottled vs. Tap

bottled waterSo I just rummaged around my office’s recycle bin to find any type of water bottle for this blog, and surfaced with three different brands of water.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t too surprised, but have to wonder:  Why would my colleagues be drinking bottled water, when Round Rock has excellent tap water?

Probably for the same reason many people do…

  • It’s easy to buy
  • It’s seems cleaner
  • It’s convenient to carry around a closable bottle
  • It’s healthy
  • It doesn’t taste or smell funny
  • … just guessing here, but I’m sure there are more reasons!

I really just want to address one part of this long-time debate between bottled water versus tap water today, and that’s related to the cost of both of these products.   The more I got into this topic, I think this will turn into a multi-part series on the bottle vs. tap debate!

So looking at purely the purchase price, the cost, what are you getting for the $1.09 that you spend to buy the bottled water?  All three of the bottled waters in my recycle bin are 500mL, which is the same as 16.9 fluid ounces, or approximately 13% of one gallon of water…plus a plastic bottle.  That’s a little pricey for 13% of 1-gallon and a plastic bottle.

When the City (or your water provider) delivers water underground through water mains, directly to your house and out all of your faucets, you are paying $2.42 for 1,000 gallons of water!!!!  That’s $0.002 per gallon of clean water delivered to your property, every day.  Cheap!!dollar_sign_water_bottle

Let’s compare this to other things:

  • $2.05 for 1 gallon of gasoline (maybe not for long!)
  • $16.99 for the cheapest ink cartridge for my printer
  • $14.99 for a 12-pack of Shiner, which is about a gallon of beer
  • $62.00 for 1.7 oz of Calvin Klein Eternity perfume, which is way less than a gallon!

So you can see where I’m going here.  Tap water is an immense valve, priced by the thousands of gallons!  We haven’t even talked about the safety of it and the fact that it doesn’t create the solid waste challenge that the bottled drink industry has.

I encourage you to drink tap water, carry your own bottles, mugs, cups, and refill them!  To find out more about the  bottled vs. tap debate, go to drinktap.org, which is an educational website run by the American Water Works Association, the largest nonprofit, scientific and educational association dedicated to managing and treating water, the world’s most important resource.

A 3rd Grader Got It!

So I spent a morning recently helping judge science fair projescience fair for blogcts at Double File Elementary School, which I love to do, and noticed a particularity relevant project.  As an aside, it’s always really interesting to me to see all the different experiments and how many have to do with popcorn, nail polish, or cokes!  (Too many!)  Anyway, one of the 3rd grade experiments was absolutely amazing!  It was titled “Growing Grass in Drought Conditions.”  I read on, my eagerly wanting to see what the conclusion of the experiment was.

What the project determined was that when watered daily for 4-weeks, grass (started from seed), didn’t grow as tall or as well as grass only watered once per week.  The conclusion, verbatim, was “I discovered that the grass watered once per week grew taller than the grass watered daily.  Based on my experiment, the local watering restrictions of once a week are an ideal amount for the growth of the grass.”

While I was very happy and impressed reading that, I wasn’t surprised.  Watering less frequently, IS much, much better for the lawn than watering daily, or every other day, or every 3 days… The soil needs to dry out between watering events, otherwise the amount of oxygen is greatly reduced in the soil, and in fact, the grass (or other plant) can simply be drown!  Most plants die of too much water, rather than not enough.  Also, if grass, or any other landscape material, is watered daily, or even every other day, it becomes highly dependent on that regular watering and doesn’t bother to grow deep or strong roots.  What’s the point, when water is delivered to it on a regular schedule?  The problem with that is, then, when, restrictions are imposed, the grass or plant gets immediately stressed out because it is now NOT getting that daily water, and of course, it looks horrible and probably dies.  It’s needs to go through routine stress to get those roots to grow, in order to have a strong, drought tolerant plant and can easily survive infrequent watering.

So, when you start watering your lawn again in the spring, I encourage you to just water once per week, if that’s even needed, and wait, watch, and see how your yard responds, before just watering it just because it’s your watering day.  A 3rd grader figured out that was enough water, I bet you will too!

New Year’s Water-lution!

It’s that time of year when we make resolutions about how to improve our lives for thLogo-we're for watere upcoming 12 months!  This year, how about a Water-lution?!  Resolve to save water–it may be easier than losing those “last” 5 pounds!  There are easy ways to save, especially when the WaterSense program can help identify appliances that are water efficient and will maintain their water savings over the years.  Sounds good, right?

When purchasing and installing products with the WaterSense label, you know you’ll get the water savings…unlike all that working out and dieting!  Is that 5 pounds ever going to go away?!?

WaterSense labeled products are backed by independent third party certification and meet EPA’s specifications for water efficiency and performance. So, when you use WaterSense labeled products in your home or business, you can be confident you’ll be saving water without sacrifice.

Also, the City’s toilet replacement program only rebates WaterSense labeled toilets.  Another good reason to look for WaterSense.

By clicking on the We’re for Water logo, you can take a pledge to save water and there’s great tips to get you saving.  It’s easy!  And there’s a money-back guarantee!  Just kidding…this is a free pledge.  (Though you could save money by fixing leaks.)

Happy New Year!

 

 

Winter Waterland

I’ve frozen irrstarted hearing the question: “how much to I water the lawn in the winter?”  from the newly moved here Texans; of course, the answer depends on who you talk to!  As you know, the winter months are a great time to cut back on water use, reduce water bills, and make sure things are running properly and efficiently at your property.  Winter is ideal, because during these cooler months, your irrigation system doesn’t need to run as often, or at all, and many utilities use the average of the winter water consumption to determine the wastewater charges for the rest of the year.

Central Texas doesn’t typically have the long, hard freezes that more common to the northern areas of the state and country, so often “winterizing” the irrigation system isn’t as a necessity as it is where freezes are more prolonged.  In our region, the most valuable adjustment you can make is to reduce the watering schedule or simply turn off the irrigation controller during the winter months.  Because the temperatures are cooler, less water is lost to evaporation and transpiration and plants simply do not need as much to replenish what is lost.

In addition to cooler temperatures, winter is typically our rainy season too, so it’s best to take advantage of the free, nitrogen-rich rainfall.  During normal winter conditions, the irrigation doesn’t need to be turned on more than once per month, if at all.

If you DO want to turn it off completely and winterize your system as a precaution and to ensure water savings, there are a few quick steps to take, or call a licensed irrigator to do it for you.backflow_cover

  1. First locate the backflow prevention device or the main valve to the sprinkler system.  Both are usually located very close to the water meter.  The backflow is located in a box that typically has a green, rectangular, plastic lid.  See the picture on the right.
  2. Next, turn the water off to the system at the backflow device.  Do this by opening up the green lid and turning one of the handles so that it is perpendicular to the metal device.  In the picture, the handles of the backflow are blue.  The arrows are pointing to the handles.  It’s not necessary to turn them both, just one will be fine.
  3. Then manually run each station for a minute or less to blow the rest of the water in the lines out; this eliminates the chance of any residual water freezing in the lines and causing pipe breaks or cracks.backflow device edited

4. Turn the system controller off when all the stations have run and leave the system off for the duration of the winter.

Again, this type of winterizing is not always necessary here, due to the lack of long, hard freezes; however if your irrigation system isn’t going to be used all winter, it certainly is worth the time to turn it off and clean the lines out.

 

Top 10 Reasons to Aerate your lawn

I came across a good website (aerate-lawn.com) the other day about lawn aeration, and the numerous benefits associated with it.  It was timely for me, as I was discussing the same topic with some colleagues recently.  Lawn aeration is crucial to having a healthy yard that requires less water.  We’ll discuss how, but first:aeration

What is aeration?  It’s the process of pulling soil plugs out of the yard mechanically, not just poking holes in the ground.  (In the top picture on the right, you can see the round, tube-like plugs of soil.)

You want the plugs pulled out of the lawn, because that’s where the benefits happen, you’re creating space for the water, roots, and air to get into the soil.  By simply poking holes in the ground, you’re creating more soil compaction.

  1. Reduces your dependency on water. Why spend more money watering your lawn than you have to?
  2. Aerating encourages your roots to grow deeper. Within two weeks of aerating, you’ll notice that the holes left by the aerator start to fill up with plant roots.  These roots are growing thicker and deeper.
  3. Lawn aerator holes help to absorb water. Rather than water having to start penetrating from the surface, it can start penetrating from one to 2 ½ inches below the surface. Not only will the holes made by the aerator hold the water, but they will also help the water to sink 2 inches deeper into the soil.core aeration
  4. It encourages thicker turf. As your roots grow down, your grass will grow quicker and thicker, creating a thicker turf.
  5. Using a lawn aerator helps build organic material in the soil.  Compacted soil just doesn’t have nearly as much organic material in it.
  6. Reduces soil compaction. Aerating also reduces compaction on the roots.
  7. Your lawn stays greener because it doesn’t need as much water to stay green, and because deeper roots have more access to nutrients.
  8. Aerating adds a layer of top-dressing to your lawn.  Aerating your lawn is like giving it top-dressing. This reason alone makes me want to aerate my lawn twice a year.
  9. Lawn aeration reduces runoff. If you’ve ever watered your lawn, only to see it all run off into the street, you know what I’m talking about. When you aerate your lawn, the water goes into the ground and not just over the top of it.
  10. Lawn aeration, as the name implies, makes it easier for your lawn to breathe. Your lawn can more readily exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide with the environment when you aerate it.

After talking with landscape professionals, I heard various recommendations to my question, “when is the best time to aerate?”  The overall answer is, really, there is no bad time, you can’t aerate too much!  But really, you want to do it while the grass is growing, so not during winter months.

Locally, many landscape companies provide this service, and there is at least one place I know of that rents an aerator.

Find many more reasons to aerate your lawn online.

Keep Water use Low in Winter and Save Year-Round

Winter seems to have come quickly this year!  It’s already the middle of November and wastewater averaging (WWA) is upon us.  3 month calendarWhat is wastewater averaging, you ask?  Well, let me tell you…

In the winter months (November, December, January, and February) the City assumes that our water usage is lower than any other time of year, simply because it’s cold out, its winter, we’re not watering our yards.  These are the months when water consumption is low, so the City uses these 3 billing cycles (Nov-Dec, Dec-Jan, Jan-Feb) to determine how much we’re going to be charged for waste water for the rest of the year.  See, the City has no meters on the waste water line; essentially the City makes an educated assumption that all water being used is going down the drains at our houses.  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 those months water use is what you are charged for waste water 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 waste water 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!

Another way to keep water use low in winter is to check for leaks, especially in your toilets.  Watch my latest video on how to check for leaks and check your toilet to see if it’s efficient.  What I say in the video is that toilets using 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf) or less are considered efficient.  I want to add to that a little, by saying that on January 1, 2014, it became state law that all toilets sold in Texas must use 1.28 gallons per flush OR LESS.  So that means, even if you have a 1.6 gpf toilet, you can make it even more efficient, and save more water each time you flush (and reduce those waste water charges further) by upgrading to a new 1.28 gpf toilet!  Find the details at www.roundrocktexas.gov/waterconservation.

 

Fall is Here–You Can Water Less!

Now that we’re officially into Fall and we’ve been enjoying the cooler temperatures; it’s time to reduce the watering times on your irrigation controllers.  With less evaporation occurring, the landscape doesn’t need to be watered as often as during the summer months.  My general rule of thumb is: cut watering in half during Fall and Spring.wwl fall aster

Since we are still in water restrictions (no more than twice per week watering), the easiest and maybe best way to achieve this is simply turning off one of your watering days.  Now simply water once per week, but keep all of the minutes the same.

In case you missed the blog I wrote back in early August about irrigation scheduling, I want to repeat some of that same information.  You can find the full blog here.  Basically, it’s about how to determine how many minutes to set the various zones for.

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

Amount of Lightamerican_beauty_berry_a

It may seem obvious, but I’m going to come out and say it anyway-shady areas require less water than sunny areas.  If you have good tree coverage and areas of the yard receive less than 6 hours of direct sunlight daily, that’s considered a shady yard.  So, when entering time into your controller, you know that the times should be higher for the sunny spots and lower for the shady ones.

Head Type

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

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

Plant Material

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

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

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

Here’s a watering schedule I follow, when irrigation is necessary during the Fall (October, maybe November) months:

 

Plant Exposure Type of Sprinkler Head Days Runtime (minutes)
St. Augustine sun spray as needed, max. 1x/wk 10 to 15
    rotor as needed, max. 1x/wk 15 to 20
  shade spray rarely, 1x per 2 wks 15
    rotor rarely, 1x per 2 wks 20
Bermudagrass sun spray rarely, 1x per 2 wks 15
    rotor rarely, 1x per 2 wks 20
  shade spray rarely, 1x per 2 wks 10
    rotor rarely, 1x per 2 wks 20
Zoysia japonica (wide blade zoysia, El Toro, JaMur, Palisades) sun spray as needed, max. 1x/wk 10 to 15
    rotor as needed, max. 1x/wk 20
  shade spray rarely, 1x per 2 wks 15
    rotor rarely, 1x per 2 wks 20
Buffalograss sun spray rarely, 1x per 2 wks 10 to 15
    rotor rarely, 1x per 2 wks 20
  shade spray rarely, 1x per 2 wks 15
    rotor rarely, 1x per 2 wks 20
Common shrubs sun spray rarely, 1x per 2 wks 10 to 15
    rotor rarely, 1x per 2 wks 20
  shade spray rarely, 1x per 2 wks 15
    rotor rarely, 1x per 2 wks 20
Common groundcovers sun spray rarely, 1x per 2 wks 10-15
    rotor rarely, 1x per 2 wks 20
  shade spray rarely, 1x per 2 wks 15
    rotor rarely, 1x per 2 wks 20

Catch the rain before it’s gone!

Once again, the huge amount of rains in the last weeks have made me think a lot about how to take more advantage of rainwater, or really, just collect more.

Which leads me to a question I was asked once that was along the lines of “I feel like I should be collecting rainwater, but don’t have any plants to water. Why should I do it?” It’s true, rainwater is so much better for your 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. However, an often overlooked, 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.

An easy visualization of this is the divots or valleys along the sides of a house where the rain pours off the roof and bangs into the ground-typically if you don’t have gutters. See the picture on the right–it’s VERY obvious where the water lands when it runs off the roof. Where does the soil go that used to occupy that space? Well, it gets carried off down into the street, into the storm water system, which flows into our creeks. By the way, this water isn’t cleaned or treated; it doesn’t go to the wastewater plant.

So, if that water can be slowed down, or stopped, that’s less soil that will be robbed from your yard each time it rains. 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 mosquitoes!

Two more good reasons for collecting rainwater include:

1. It’s free and 2. 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.)  Round Rock is also having a rainbarrel sale that is going on currently until November 9, 2014:

Three sizes of rain barrels are being offered:

  • 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
  • Also water diverter kits for $15.99 or $21

The barrels will be distributed on Friday, November 14th and Saturday, November 15th at the Dell Diamond NE parking lot.  This is located behind the Prosperity Bank.  To order barrels, go to http://www.cityrainbarrelprogram.org/  You do not have to be a City of Round Rock water customer or resident to purchase any of these products.  There is no limit to how many you can purchase.

All the details to both of these City programs can be found at www.roundrocktexas.gov/waterconservation

Rain Barrel Sale Going on Now

The City’s Water Conservation Program is having a rain barrel sale!  The barrels being sold are being supplied from a different company than the last sales.  These barrels are made in Austin, so a little more local.  Available for this event are three different sizes (capacity) of barrels and a rainspout diverter.  The pre-sale is open now for barrels to be purchased online.

Barrel Descriptions:

  • The 50-gallon Springsaver barrel has a compact design with a flat back, to nestle up close to the side of your house. It’s available in 6 color choices and being sold for $64.99.
  • The 54-gallon Rainsaver barrel looks like a traditional barrel and is available in 3 color choices. It’s being sold for $84.99.
  • The Classic 100-gallon barrel is lined on its interior to prevent mold and algae growth. They are available in 28 colors and being sold for $208.65.
  • The Downspout Diverter system allows you to divert water from your gutter downspouts without have to cutoff the downspout. Two different models are available at $15.99 and $21.00.  These aren’t pictured here.

The ordered barrels and diverters will be distributed on Friday, November 14th and Saturday, November 15th at the Northeast parking lot of the Dell Diamond (this is the parking area behind the bank).

Barrels purchased at this event ARE eligible for the City’s rainwater rebate.  There will be applications for the rebate provided on the distribution date, or you can get it online.  You must be a direct City of Round Rock water customer in order to receive the rebate.  You do not have to be a City water customer in order to purchase the barrels or downspout diverters though.

There is no limit to how many barrels you can purchase, or what combination of barrel sizes or colors you purchase.  To order or for specific questions regarding the barrel specifications, visit the program website at cityrainbarrelprogram.org

I’m compelled to remind you that rainwater is the best choice for watering plants with, as it’s full of nutrients the plants can use better than treated tap water; the main one being nitrogen.  Think of how green and lush everything looks after a good downpour!

I hope to see you at the Dell Diamond in November!