Summer is Headed Our Way

The temperatures have started creeping up into the 80s consistently now…and the beautiful bluebonnets are everywhere!  It’s starting to feel like summer and the City’s water use is going up to further confirm that warming feeling.  Folks have started watering their yards, planting grass and gardens and other outdoor landscaping activities, this is the main reason water use is on the rise.

I want to remind you that the City is still under Stage 1 of the Drought Contingency Plan.  The restrictions were made effective back on October 14, 2013 and haven’t been rescinded yet.  What this means is that IF you are going to use water outside of your property, mainly watering your yard, this can’t happen more than twice per week.  And not during the hours between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Realistically, once per week watering is more than enough currently.  The temperatures haven’t been hot enough to evaporate all the moisture to need to water more than once.  We did have a very dry winter–even with “all” the ice, it’s been one of the driest winters in at least 5 years (that’s how long I’ve been keeping track of the rainfall).  So, some irrigation may be needed in sunny areas of the yard.  Gardens will need water more frequently to establish them.

Because of the lack of rainfall this winter, the lakes haven’t risen either.  This means that the water restrictions will continue for the time being.  If you’d like to hear more about what the current water situation is, come to the City’s public library on April 10 where I’ll be giving a presentation regarding the current water situation and predictions for this summer!

Read the water restriction information with all the details on the City’s Drought Restriction page.

Reminder on rainbarrel and compost bin sale

Spring is nearly officially here, it happens on March 20!  I wanted to remind you that the Water Conservation Program is having another rainbarrel sale, which ends on March 31, 2014!  These are the same 50-gallon Ivy barrels and 65-gallon Moby barrels that were sold last year. You can pre-purchase barrels, online at www.rainbarrelprogram.org/centraltexas.  There WILL be some “extra” barrels available for sale the day of the event, however, we cannot hold them or guarantee the amount we will have–it’s first come, first served.

The pre-ordered barrels will be distributed on Saturday, April 5, 2014, from 8:30 a.m. until noon at the Southwest Williamson County Park near the Quarry Splash Pad.  For those of you that purchased barrels last April, it’s the same place. This is the County Park just north of the 1431 – Sam Bass Road/FM 175 intersection.  It’s the one with the train.

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.  You must be a 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 compost bins though.

One thing that is a little different than last year is that compost bins will be available for purchase too.  Find out more at the same www.rainbarrelprogram.org/centraltexas link.  They will be distributed during the same event.  A picture of them is below.

There is no limit — except your space and $$ — to how many barrels you can purchase; and if you are looking for something larger than 65-gallons, you can certainly purchase tanks from another vendor and apply for the rebate.  I have a list of mostly local vendors that sell tanks on the Rainwater Page of the website.

I hope to see you at the park on April 5!

 

 

 

Irrigation Workshop

Do you have an irrigation system, but don’t quite know how to use it effectively?  Or at all??
Do you have an irrigation system and would like to learn how to make simple repairs, fixes, and upgrades to it yourself?  If the answer is yes to any of the above questions, I’d like to invite you to the free irrigation workshop that the
City of Round Rock Water Conservation program and Williamson County Master Gardeners are having on Saturday, March 22, 2014, at the Williamson County Extension Office at 3151 SE Inner Loop, in Georgetown.

The outdoor event will be comprised of 5 stations that will demonstrate various aspects of an irrigation system’s workings.  You can visit them all, or just the ones that interest you.

Come learn:

 

  • How water pressure determines how far the water will spray out of the sprinkler head, and how coverage is affected by too high or too low water pressure; learn how you can adjust the water pressure to be “just right!”
  • How to use your controller, you know, the box that turns it on and off.  Learn how to set it, make adjustments, and do more than just turn it on.
  • How to make simple repairs; there are plenty of things you can do yourself on your irrigation system.  Learn how to replace broken or leaking heads, clean out nozzles, adjust misdirected heads…it’s easy!  You can watch the video below to learn how to clean out clogged nozzles now.
  • How an irrigation system works: view the system above ground, learn what all the components are that are involved with turning the system on and off and allowing water to flow through the pipes.
  • What drip irrigation is and how to utilize it in your landscape.  See how drip is a more efficient way to water certain plants and make some conversions from spray heads to drip.

 

There will also be folks on-hand to talk about water supply and conservation programs in the area.  So, come join us on Saturday, March 22, 2014, between 9am – 12pm at the
Williamson County Extension Office
.  It’s going on rain or shine.  No need to stay the entire time, come and go as you please.

 

Springtime Sprinkler Check

The beautiful weekends have made me ready for Spring!  The weekend weather has been perfect to get a little yard work done, but then it’s freezing again!  When spring cleaning the yard by adding new mulch, trimming back frozen plants, and installing some color, those of us with automatic sprinkler systems need to think about prepping it for spring as well.

For most of us, our irrigation systems haven’t been used since October or November – -unless it came on and caused a frozen wonderland. That’s good that it’s been off.  Before simply turning it on to run the last program it was running in the fall, it should be visually checked out to ensure that all is working well with it.  I’m talking about setting a test program on your controller and visually inspecting the system to ensure that it’s working the way you expect it to, so that when you do start using it more frequently you won’t be surprised by high water bills, dying landscapes, or spotty coverage.

Since the inspection doesn’t need to take too long, again, it’s just a visual, you’re going to run the sprinkler system on the test program, or program in your own test program, for only 1 or 2 minutes per station.  When you turn it on to run manually you are looking for problems like:

    • sprinkler heads that aren’t popping up–maybe grass grew over the head,
    • heads that are turned the wrong way and are spraying areas they shouldn’t be (i.e. driveways, the street, the house, the fence, cactus, into your neighbors yard); they just need to be physically turned to point the correct way;
    • leaking heads–these should be replaced;
    • heads that are covered by shrubs (side note: plants continue to grow after sprinklers are originally installed, so heads may not spray what they are “supposed” to if the shrub has grown up and covered the head completely); it’s time to trim the shrub or move the head;
    • areas of low water pressure — this could indicate a leak in the water line, or a broken head and may require additional time to inspect or calling a licensed irrigator to check it out; and
    • heads that DO pop-up, but no water comes out–that’s a clogged head and just needs to be cleaned out.

While the system is running, you can make notes of where the problems are to address once you’ve run through all the stations, or try to fix them while the system’s running.  I recommend a water resistant jacket for that, or warmer weather and a swimsuit!  Once you’ve adjusted the heads and make what fixes are needed, you are good to go in running the system through fully, knowing it will be efficient and effective in watering your landscape.  That’s good!

Remember, when setting your controller for the spring, it’s best to start slow; watering once per week or less is plenty for this time for year and the City is still under Stage I water restrictions.

Watch our latest video on how to set up a test program for your controller:

 

Rainbarrel Sale!

The Water Conservation Program is having another rainbarrel sale!  These are the same 50-gallon Ivy barrels and 65-gallon Moby barrels that were sold last year.  You can start prepurchasing barrels now, online at www.rainbarrelprogram.org/centraltexas    

The pre-ordered barrels will be distributed on Saturday, April 5th from 8:30am until noon at the Southwest Williamson County Park near the Quarry Splash Pad.  For those of you that purchased barrels last April, it’s the same place.  This is the County Park just north of the 1431 – Sam Bass Road/FM 175 intersection.  It’s the one with the train.

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.  You must be a 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 compost bins though.

One thing that is a little different than last year is that compost bins will be available for purchase too.  Find out more at the same www.rainbarrelprogram.org/centraltexas link.  They will be distributed during the same event.  A picture of them is below. 

There is no limit–except your space and $$–to how many barrels you can purchase; and if you are looking for something larger than 65-gallons, you can certainly purchase tanks from another vendor and apply for the rebate.  I have a list of mostly local vendors that sell tanks on the Rainwater Page of the website.

I hope to see you at the park on April 5th!

Leave the Leaves

The leaves have been falling from some of the trees for a few months now, although my trees like to wait until March to drop leaves, darn live oaks!snoopy leaf pile  Raking is usually a job I reserve for the kids, as I’m not a huge fan of doing it.  I’d much rather just mulch them up and leave them on the yard than raking and picking them up.  My kids would rather take a cue from Snoopy!

I know, leaves don’t sound like a water conservation issue, but they are–and also a water pollution concern.  One of my colleagues in the City’s Stormwater group and I were talking about the leaf blowers…folks that just blow their leaves down the storm drain or in the street and what a nuisance that is; not only the noise, but the actual blowing the leaves down the storm drain.  In most cases, those drains lead to ponds and creeks.  No storm drains go to the wastewater treatment plants.  The leaves clogging up the water ways then can block out the sunlight in our waterways, which has negative effects on our aquatic life and aquatic plants.  Little or no sunlight means plants and animals don’t get light, no photosynthesis for plants to live, no food for animals.  The added nutrients from the leaves also can act as poison to the plants and animals, too much fertilizer in the water isn’t a good thing.

The leaves in the storm drains can also clog up the actual drains themselves and prevent stormwater (rain) from entering the storm drain, causing flooding, since the water can’t go down the drain as it’s designed to.  Keeping stormdrains clear is one way to help prevent flooding.

Of course, you’ve heard that leaves are a great source of nutrients for your yard and it’s really best to mulch them, ideally, with a mulching mower.  They can also be raked up and put in shrub beds, around trees, or piled up to start a compost pile, letting them degrade on their own over time.  The City’s Drop-Off Recycling Center at 310 Deepwood Dr also takes your bagged leaves and creates mulch, which is free to City water customers to come and pick up for their use.  Leaf mulch is a great way to keep water loss to a minimum around your trees and beds; a nice layer of mulch also prevents weeds from growing in these same areas.  compostpiles

 

The picture to the right is basically what the leaf compost piles look like at my house.  I have a wire cage that I simply fill up with leaves each year.  Rain keeps it wet (this year, anyway!), which helps speed up the composting process.  Allowing air to circulate in the pile helps speed it up too–so turning the pile occasionally helps, or stirring it up.  With no action or input from you, it will take about 2 years for the pile to decompose.

There are several online resources that talk about the benefits of mulching and ways to manage your leaves:

City of Austin’s Grow Green program mentions it in their Earthwise Guide to Lawn Care fact sheet.

 

 

Shower Smarter

I can’t believe that December is almost over!  I just realized that it’s been a month since I wrote my last blog…time flies!  Well, as you know, it’s winter time, which means it is waste water averaging (WWA) time for the water utility.  showerheadI talked about WWA during my article relating to toilets. To keep with the bathroom theme, I am moving onto showers–showerheads specifically.

Showers are similar to toilets, in that they are used daily and account for about 17% of our daily indoor water use.  Also, like toilets, they are regulated by national and state codes regarding how much water they can use; for showers, it’s rated as gallons of water per minute (gpm), versus toilets, which is gallons per flush (gpf).  Currently, the EPA requires that any and all showerheads sold must use no more than 2.5 gpm.   This has been the law since 2010 and there are plenty of showerheads on the market that use less than this.

I know, low-flow showerheads just don’t sound appealing.  I always think of that old Seinfeld episode where low-flow showerheads are being introduced in Jerry’s apartment building and Kramer is purchasing black-market, elephant washing showerheads that knocks him out of the shower and starts doing everything in there-food preparation, washing dishes…it makes me laugh!  And cringe.

The thing is, showerheads aren’t really “low-flow,” as in low-pressure.  Although they use less water, they simply use the same water pressureshowerhead edited that your house currently has; they don’t change the water pressure.  Us water nerds prefer to call the fixtures “efficient” showerheads, or “water-conserving” showerheads.  Sounds much better than “low-flow”!

I’ll admit, I’ve had my doubts too.  The heads I’ve installed at my house use 1.50 gpm, and honestly, I was skeptical about them and put off installing them for a while.  Finally, for the sake of research and water efficiency, I installed them and was pleasantly surprised–they worked great and have plenty of pressure and water!  And, if you are considering a bathroom remodel that includes multiple showerheads in the same shower, just remember that that doubles or triples the amount of water that is being used per minute, while multiple heads are in use (2.5 x number of heads = total gpm).

If your home is new, you probably already have efficient fixtures.  You can check for yourself just by reading the fine print on the showerhead.  See the middle picture.  Where the red arrow is pointing is where showerheads typically have printed what their gpm is.  The one shown says 1.75 gpm max–meaLogo-WaterSensening the most it’s going to emit is 1.75 gallons per minute.

So, this winter while you are fixing leaks, replacing toilets, and otherwise making your home water efficient to get the lowest WWA possible, think about replacing your showerheads too.  The City is giving away free 1.75 gpm showerheads at the water billing office, while supplies last, or purchase a model of your choosing at any store that sells showerheads or plumbing fixtures.  Don’t forget to look for the WaterSense label, those have been tested and approved as good quality, water saving devices.

Find out more about efficient showerheads at EPA’s WaterSense site.

Best Seat in the House

As we’ve entered into wastewater averaging season (November – February), we are all trying to use the least amount of water possible so that our wastewater averages and charges will be lower this next year.  So, let’s talk toilets as a easy way to reduce the consumption of water inside your home.funny toilet  It involves no behavior changes, you don’t have to think about it, it just saves water each time it’s used!  First though, maybe I should explain wastewater averaging quickly, to make sure we’re all on the same page.

Wastewater averaging happens every winter.  It’s the way the City calculates what you’ll be charged on your utility bill for wastewater (or sewer, same thing).  The City doesn’t have meters on the wastewater lines coming from your property, so we don’t know exactly how much waste is leaving and we’re treating.  We make assumptions based on your water use.  During the winter months (November – February), it is assumed that all water used at your property is being used indoors (and goind down the drain–think sinks, toilets, baths, washers, showers).  It’s winter, the plants go dormant and we’ve had so much rain, no additional irrigation is needed.  Evaporation to pools is minimal.  So, this winter water use is the lowest amount of water used all year.  Those winter months of water use are averaged and that average is what you’re charged for wastewater the remainder of the year.  And yes, wastewater does cost more than water.  It just takes more time, chemicals, and other treatments to clean it, so the charges are slightly higher for it.

You have a direct impact on your wastewater charges by using less water during the winter months.  First, turn off your irrigation system.  Easy, done.  The next major impact–and my topic today–toilets.  Everyone uses one everyday.  They account for the largest use of water indoors, using up to 30% of our indoor water use.  The less water you flush, the lower your water use will be, and that directly impacts wastewater charges.  We’ve come full-circle now!

Now, the City has had a toilet rebate program, on and off, since 2009.  To be eligible for the rebate there are three criteria:Logo-WaterSense

  1. You must be a direct City of Round Rock water customer.  This is because the water conservation program is funded directly by a portion our customer’s water charges; MUDs and others not on City water do not contribute to the program and aren’t eligible.
  2. Your house or property must have been built before January 1996.  I get asked about that date and here’s why it’s there: In 1991 the EPA determined that all toilets manufactured and sold in the U.S. must use 1.6 gallons of water per flush (gpf) or less.  At that time, all the manufacturers did was fill up the tanks with less water, but kept all the plumbing parts the same.  The toilets were terrible and most had to be double-flushed, which is why the bad reputation is still made fun of today in sitcoms.  Water usage was actually increasing, rather than decreasing and the manufacturers knew they had to make other changes to the design of the toilets.  So, fast-forward a few years to 1995 and efficient toilets were redisgned and now actually flushing the way they were supposed to.  The date is there since all toilets manufactured since then were good, working 1.6 gpf toilets.
  3. The toilet(s) purchased must be WaterSense approved.  WaterSense is an EPA program that is basically like Energy Star, but for water use.  Items labeled with WaterSense label have been third-party tested for performance and lasting efficiency.  When purchasing a product that has the WaterSense logo, you know the product is good and will retain it’s water savings for it’s life expectancy.  The list is continually updated as more products get tested.

So, if you haven’t already paricipated in the rebate program, or replaced your pre-1996 toilets, it’s time to do it!!  The rebate program is ending permanently on December 31, 2013, so there is only a month left to take advantage of the rebate!  Why is it ending, you ask?  Well, starting January 1, 2014, all toilets sold in Texas must be 1.28 gpf or less, by law.  The City isn’t keen on providing a rebate on an appliance that is efficient, when that’s the only choice available. We’d rather start using the funds for another program.

Rainwater Collection: Top 5 Reasons to do it

I had the pleasure of attending the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA) annual conference this past week in Austin. The topics focused on a variety of things–from legislation, to irrigating with rainwater, to storm water control, and using it for a potable water source, just to name a few topics.  The conference (and the huge amount of rain recently!) has made me think a lot about how to take greater advantage of rainwater, or really, just collect more water.rainbarrel

Which leads me to a question I was asked by a resident recently that was along the lines of “I feel like I should be collecting rainwater, but don’t have any plants to water.  Why would I do it?”  It’s true, rainwater is so much better for your plants than the municipal water supply because of (1.) it’s high nitrogen content (the main plant fertilizer — the N part of PKN in the bags of fertilizer purchased at garden stores) and (2.) it’s softer water than tapwater.  Around here, we have hard water, thanks to all the limestone in the area.  These are probably THE main reasons folks collect rainwater.

However, an often overlooked, just as good reason is for (3.) erosion control.  You don’t have to actually “use” the water collected, but if you could at least slow it down while it’s on your property (when falling from the sky); that would aid in reducing the amount of erosion your property is subjected to.

As easy visualization of what I’m talking about is the divots or valleys along the sides of a house where rain pours off the roof and bangs into the ground–typically if there are no 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 waste water plant.erosion 002 edited

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 in barrels, tanks, converted trash cans, and then release it, slowly, over your yard a few days after the rain event.  Slowly is what’s key here, ideally we want the water to soak in, not run off.  Then the barrel(s) is empty and ready to collect the next rainfall AND you don’t have to worry about mosquitos!!

Another way to slow down the water, and not worry with a tank, is with a rain garden.  The City of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department has some good information about creating your own raingarden. http://www.austintexas.gov/raingardens

Other good reasons for collecting rainwater include:

4. It’s free!  The water is anyway.

5. Collection tanks, barrels, and other components are tax-exempt and have been since around 2000.  See the Texas Water Development Board’s website for more details about tax-exemption.

and (bonus reason #6.) The City of Round Rock does offer a rebate for water collection.  See our website at www.roundrocktexas.gov/waterconservation for the application and details on the rebate.

Vote for…

It’s voting season!  From reading the signs along the roadways and street corners, we have the ability and duty to vote for our parks, our roads, libraries, fire department, and the well-being and betterment of our town and county!Vote-button

What I haven’t seen yet is a sign promoting voting for our water.  Proposition 6 information specifically.  Proposition 6 relates to the State Water Plan.   You can find more at the Water4Texas website or at the Texas Water Foundation website.

Here’s the basics though about what Prop 6 is and what’s its purpose is:

  • Proposition 6 creates and constitutionally dedicates two new funds: the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT) and State Water Implementation Revenue Fund for Texas (SWIRFT). If the voters approve Proposition 6, the legislature has also authorized a one-time, $2 billion investment from the Economic Stabilization Fund (also known as the Rainy Day Fund) to be deposited into the SWIFT for the support of water supply projects in the state water plan. These funds are designed to make the financing of water projects through bonds more affordable for local entities and ensure that consistent, ongoing state financial assistance is available so that our citizens will have adequate water supplies during drought.
  • Texas grows by approximately 1200 people every day, and our state’s population is projected to nearly double by 2060.  The state’s current water supplies cannot support that growth.
  • The funds being invested by Prop 6 will provide low-interest loads for water supply projects.  Prop 6 doesn’t provide grants–these are loans that must be repaid to the state.
  • The recipients of these loans will be limited to political subdivisions of the state, such as towns and cities, to help them implement critical water supply projects, including water conservation strategies.
  • The funds approved by Prop 6 will be loaned from constitutionally-dedicated accounts, which means that the funds can only be used for water supply projects included in our State Water Plan.
  • The funds will be managed by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB).
  • Prop 6 will not raise taxes.

Please vote this election season, and think about our water supply when voting!