outdoor water use

Save Water this Summer

The weather has been hit or miss so far this summer, with very little rain since July.  The City’s water use, as a whole, has doubled since the beginning of July!!  We were using close to 18 million gallons of water per day; now we’re up to 37 million gallons of water per day!  That’s a huge increase (city-wide, our use has doubled) all because of the heat.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say the high temperatures don’t mean we need to crank up the sprinklers.  That would be doing a disservice to our lawns and native plants AND our water source, which is Lake Georgetown.

While we aren’t in any mandatory water restrictions right now, the potential is there.  The lake levels have dropped from 100% full at the beginning of July, to 86% full as I’m writing this (mid-August).  That’s a lot of water reduction in only about 6 weeks!

I’d like to offer you several specific ways to help keep Round Rock’s water use low, so we don’t have to enact mandatory water restrictions.  You don’t have to do them all (however saving water = saving money and saving energy), so I just ask that you do as many as you can!

  1. Fix any and all leaks at your house; this could be a leaking toilet, a dripping faucet, or a pipe leak on the mainline. It could be leaks in the irrigation system.  Yes, there are a lot of places for water to leak from! 
    • The City’s Utility department has dye tablets and Teflon tape (aka plumber’s tape) for free in the Utility Billing Office. You can also request a free leak kit from the website here or see all our tips for leak detection at your property at roundrocktexas.gov/leaks
    • You can also view your water use on your city water portal; here you can see your weekly, daily, or hourly water use. You would be able to see if you have a leak if there is constant water use all day, even when you are sleeping or gone.  This isn’t in real time, there’s about a 12-hour delay, but it’s also great way to see how much you are using for different activities.
  2. Do not water more than twice per week. This is crucial to keep your lawn and landscape drought tolerant.  There are exceptions to this, like brand newly installed plants, gardens, plants in pots, but generally speaking, nothing needs  to be watered more than twice per week—some plants even less.
    • The problem with watering frequently is that the plant roots don’t grow long and strong.  They stay short and close to the plant—knowing they do not need to grow, as water will appear every day, or every other day.  Your landscaping goal should be to have a yard that you don’t have to water each summer, right?  Get the plant used to occasional watering, by not watering more than twice per week, and even cutting back to once per week.
    • Another great way to save is to not water if rain is forecast, or it has just rained—especially if it’s rained more than ½ an inch. Keep the water off for at least a week after a good soak.
  3. Is your yard thriving this summer? Looking lush and green and not realizing that it’s been over 100 degrees for weeks?  Does it look like it needs mowing once per week for sure, if not more?  If that’s the case, then I’d say you can reduce your runtimes (minutes) slightly and see if you notice any difference in the yard.  If not, great!  You’ve just reduced your water consumption.  You can try to reduce again, slightly, after a week or two to save some more!  By slightly, I’m talking 2 minutes.  That’s it—it’s not much, will your lawn even notice?    Try it! 
  4. Can you tell when your irrigation system has run because you have water all over your car, or back porch, or running down the street? That’s water is being wasted.  That’s water you’ve paid for, but not getting any benefit from.
    • Adjusting heads is relatively easy.  sometimes over time, the sprinkler heads just move and need some slight adjusting back to spray what they are supposed to spray.  In some cases, you can physically turn the head to face the direction it’s supposed to be spraying (this works best when the system is turned on, so you can see if you’re turning it to the right spot). 
    • Sometimes the head is just spraying water too far—over the landscape and into the street or driveway. We have a nice video that shows how to make that adjustment.  It’s also pretty easy, you just need a small, flat-head screwdriver and be willing to get a little wet! 
  5. Consider a smart controller for your irrigation system, rather than a traditional timer.
    • A smart controller will adjust for the weather, versus the traditional timer that waters every, just because it’s the set day to water, regardless if it is about to rain, or has just rained. The city’s irrigation rebate program may also cover a portion of the cost of a new controller, if it’s a WaterSense labeled controller.
    • Another way to achieve this would be to just water manually, not on a schedule. Actually look at your yard to determine if it looks stressed out (don’t do this during the heat of the day, because of course it will!); look at it first thing in the morning.  Is the grass leave blade upright, green, looking strong?  Then it’s good, no extra water is needed.

If you are going to water your lawn, we ask that you voluntarily stay on your water days; this way if we do go into mandatory restrictions you won’t need to make any changes.

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

Need more detailed information about the water restrictions?  Visit the City website’s Drought Restriction page.

 

Spruce Up Your Sprinkler System and Save

Spring has arrived! The onset of warmer weather can lead to an increase in landscape irrigation. Before you ramp up your watering, be sure to spruce up your irrigation system. System maintenance can help save you a lot of money and water! Cracks in pipes can lead to costly leaks, and broken sprinkler heads can waste water and money. You could be losing up to 25,000 gallons of water and more than $90 over a six-month irrigation season!

Now is the perfect time to spruce up your irrigation system. To get started, follow these four simple steps—inspect, connect, direct, and select:

Inspect. Check your system for clogged, broken, or missing sprinkler heads. Better yet, find an irrigation professional licensed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Qualify (TCEQ) to do the work for you. You can apply for a rebate from the City by having your system checked by a licensed irrigator.

Connect. Examine points where the sprinkler heads connect to pipes/hoses. If water is pooling in your landscape or you have large soggy areas, you could have a leak in your system. A leak as small as the tip of a ballpoint pen (1/32 of an inch) can waste about 6,300 gallons of water per month.

Direct. Are you watering the driveway, house, or sidewalk instead of your yard? Redirect sprinklers to apply water only to the landscape.

Select. An improperly scheduled irrigation controller can waste a lot of water and money. Update your system’s schedule with the seasons, or select a WaterSense labeled controller to take the guesswork out of scheduling. WaterSense labeled controllers also qualify for the City’s Efficient Irrigation Upgrade Rebate.

Don’t forget to add “sprinkler spruce-up” to your spring cleaning list this year. Learn more about maintaining a water-smart yard by visiting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense website at www.epa.gov/watersense/outdoor.

Find the City’s water conservation rebate details and application at www.roundrocktexas.gov/conservation.

5 Signs You’re Watering Too Much

A high water bill may be your first clue that something is terribly amiss. But there are a few other signs that signal you may be overwatering your landscape.

 

Sometimes the biggest water waste happens in perfectly manicured lawns, watering on the correct time and day, with no signs of broken sprinklers or anything wrong.  In such a case, a high water bill may be the customer’s first clue that something’s terrible amiss in the water department. But here are a few signs to watch for — usually in summer, but any time of year if you’re overwatering:

  1.  Cockroaches:If you see cockroaches wandering around shrubs, pots, grasses and the yard in general, you’ve got a perfect habitat for cockroaches — and that means your yard is as wet as the inside of a sewer pipe. Sound gross?

Cockroaches thrive on decomposing plant material. So remember, all that extra water is probably building up as thatch and rotting your grass from below. Other insects that benefit from too much water: pillbugs, millipedes and especially fire ants.

2. Dollarweed:  Dollarweed is one of those plants so tenacious it’s created an industry of big-box weed killers for homeowners trying to get rid of it. Hint: dollarweed requires even more water to look good than grass — so if your grass is drowning in dollarweed, put down the weedkiller and pick up the sprinkler instruction.

3.  Fungus:

Has it been raining? Then look for mushrooms. But if there are still mushrooms in dry, warm winter weather, your lawn is probably staying wet and poorly drained; not a good idea, since in addition to mushrooms, some of the most common fungal turf diseases include take-all patch and brown patch.

4.  Wet walls, fences, and cans:  It’s not just the amount of water you use, it’s where you put it. By some estimates, about one-fifth of summer irrigation water is spent watering side yards, AC condensers, toolsheds and garbage cans — and that’s way too much.  Heads in the side yard can be capped or turned off to reduce watering items that do not need the extra water.

5.  Runoff:  Pools of water are a sure sign the run times are too long on your sprinkler system. If the yard is too steep to hold much water, cycle and soak (watering shorter length of time, but multiple times in a row) may be a better method. Remember, your bedding plants typically need less water than grass.

So remember, use common sense when it comes to your outdoor use.  If things feel or look too wet, reduce the time by 2 minutes to see how it helps the problems.  Wait at least a week before making more changes.

Irrigation Rebates can Help you Reduce this Summer

Can you believe it’s July already?  July marks Smart Irrigation Month, and as I have in years past, I’m going to focus on providing you some tips to reduce your water use, or at least help you not waste water this July.  And, ideally, we’ll get some rain, which will help in reducing water use too!!

July is generally one of the hottest months of the year, which means, it’s one of the highest water use months of the year, which is why the Irrigation Association has designated this month as Smart Irrigation Month.

I’m going to focus on the two rebate programs that the City’s Water Conservation Program is offering for those of you with automatic irrigation (sprinkler) systems that are also direct water customers of the City.  You can take advantage of both to help you get that sprinkler system into top notch working order this year!

The first is a brand-new pilot program (being offered until September or until funds run out) for having your system checked out by a licensed irrigation company or irrigator.  This is essentially a “Spring Tune-Up” for your system (yes, even though it’s summer!).  If you hire a licensed company to come do a complete check up of the system and fix anything that needs to be fixed–broken heads, heads pointed the wrong way or are clogged, check the controller settings and whatever else is needed to get the system in tip-top shape, then you would be eligible for the rebate.  You can find the application and details for the Irrigation Check-Up program on the conservation rebate page.

Licensed companies can be found on the TCEQ’s website at this link.  You can also just check that the company has an LI number on their business card or website, or advertisement.  That LI stands for licensed irrigator, which by state law, a person must be to work on an irrigation system.

The second rebate program is the Irrigation Upgrade Rebate.  This rebate has been offered for several years now, but has undergone some recent changes to take advantage of newer technologies.  This program features rebates for the following type of changes, or upgrades, to your system:

  • reducing the water pressure on a system with high pressure by either installing a main pressure reducing valve (prv), or adjusting pressure at the zone valves, or replacing heads or nozzles with pressure reducing technology;
  • installing new technology in the form of weather sensors, such as rain, freeze, or soil moisture sensors;

    multi-stream nozzle

  • installing a new controller that is a WaterSense labeled controller (many new weather-based controllers qualify for this).  Look for the WaterSense label when purchasing at a store or online;
  • converting areas from traditional spray irrigation to drip irrigation;
  • capping off or permanently disabling a zone or zones;
  • converting traditional spray heads to more efficient multi-stream nozzles, or pressure reducing heads or nozzles; and
  • installing check valves on the lowest heads of your system that always look like they are leaking after the system turns off.  This is actually very normal and not a leak, it’s the low head drainage where the “extra” water in the pipe drains out after the system has turned off.  It can be prevented with sprinkler heads that have built-in check valves or installing a check valve in the existing head.

Of course, see the applications for complete details.  Neither of the programs are for the installation of a new system, only for the improvement of existing systems.  You can find those applications here or at www.roundrocktexas.gov/conservation under the rebate section.

Happy July and keep those landscapes water smart!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Add Mulch for a Mountain of Benefits

Mulching the bare soil around plants is a major part of basic water conservation and for the health of the plant and soil.  It should be the last step when new planting is done.  I’m sure you know that a healthy layer of mulch keeps weeds from growing, helps reduce water loss due to evaporation, keeps the soil cooler, and (depending on the type you install) will break-down in time to add nutrients to the soil, and protect against harsh weather in winter, recycle local materials, are loaded with nutrients, lock together and stay in place well, breathe properly and break down fairly quickly to feed microbes in the soil…WOW!

That’s a lot that just a little layer of mulch can do.  But, there are some good and bad choices.  I’m going to liberally borrow from The Dirt Doctor, local Organic Gardener Howard Garrett, and his expertise on mulch.  Here’s a rundown for you and some tips that might help choose the best mulch for your yard.

The Good…

  • Shredded native mulches are the best choices; they provide all the benefits listed above.  As a Round Rock water customer, you can get FREE hardwood mulch at our brush recycling center!

    shredded hardwood bark mulch

  • Pecan shell mulch is a fairly good choice if it is partially composted first. Fresh, new shells don’t behave very well. Like pine bark, they blow and wash around and fresh shells usually have some pecan meat left that may attract fire ants.  Boo.
  • Partially completed compost is good mulch. When ingredients are still identifiable this compost shouldn’t be used in bed preparation, but it is good to use as a topdressing mulch.
  • Shredded hardwood bark is a good mulch. It is not as good as shredded tree trimmings because of much less nitrogen. As opposed to shredded tree trimmings, there is little protein tissue (buds, stems, cambium, leaves, etc.) that is the source of nitrogen and other nutrients.
  • Pine straw or pine needles do not have the same natural chemical issues as pine bark. Plus they stay in place and work well as mulch. Only issue is that this mulch can look out of place if no pine trees are growing on the site. This is an excellent mulch for the vegetable garden because it breaks down quickly and effectively helps feed the soil.
  • Lava gravel is an excellent mulch if you like the look. It helps grow plants and helps keep them healthy.

The Bad…

  • The worst choice – rubber mulch made from ground up tires. It’s full of toxic chemicals, doesn’t break down to feed microbes, and holds heat that will damage microbes and plants. This product should never be used.

    rubber mulch

  • The second worst mulch – colored mulch. These red and black products are all over the place in the marketplace but should not be used. Some of the dyes used in these products are very questionable in toxicity, but there are more serious problems. These “mulches” are made from ground-up wood such as siding, pallets, lumber, etc. These things are all carbon and totally unbalanced due to lack of protein/nitrogen. They not only don’t feed the soil properly, they actually rob nitrogen from microbes and soil health.
  • Cocoa mulch, also a bad one. It smells good, but is expensive and very dangerous to dogs. Don’t use.
  • Cypress breaks down very slowly. That’s not what we want. The rotting of mulch is an important source of natural fertility. Cypress also tends to fuse together and not breathe properly. The way it is harvested from wetlands and shipped across the country is an environmental problem. Not a good choice.
  • Pine bark, also not the worse, but not the best.  The large nuggets are better than the medium and fine-textured products since they will at least stay in place a little better. The small pieces blow and wash away to eliminate the benefit and create a maintenance problem. Plus, all pine bark products contain natural chemicals that are not good for soil health or plant growth.

    bad “volcano” mulching

The Ugly…

  • Volcano type mulching looks horrible and because it is piled high up on the tree trunk, the flare is completely covered and the moisture kept on the trunk is highly detrimental to the tree.  Tree flares should always be exposed (of course) and proper mulching should not be piled up on stems and trunks of plants.
  • Plastic barriers.  Shredded tree trimmings are an excellent mulch choice, but when plastic is used under it, the benefits are eliminated.  Mulches should touch the soil so that their breakdown into humus feeds the life in the soil.  Also the plastic prevents water from soaking into the ground, which is exactly the opposite of what we want!

 

Good luck in picking out the best option for your yard!  I have used the City’s free much for over 10 years now in my yard with no issues.  It looks great!  I replace it annually since it does break down and layer it around trees and in beds about 3-4 inches deep.

 

Water Less this Fall

Now that we’re officially into Fall hill-country-highlights-watching-the-leaves-change-at-lost-maples-state-parkand enjoying some 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 times in half during Fall and Spring

If you don’t really know how much you should be watering to begin with, let me go over the 3 basic things to look at to determine how long the system should be running because, 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.

Amount of Light

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 rotate, they turn, 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.
  • 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 and require less water to survive.  They are made for our climate and weather conditions.   So, turn those stations off completely in the fall, winter, and spring 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 months:

Fall—October, maybe November

Set controllers for 1 start time for all lawn types.

Plant

Exposure

Type of Sprinkler Head

How Often to Water

Runtime (minutes)

St. Augustinesunsprayas needed, max. 1x/wk10 to 15
  rotoras needed, max. 1x/wk15 to 20
 shadesprayrarely, 1x per 2 wks15
  rotorrarely, 1x per 2 wks20
Bermudagrasssunsprayrarely, 1x per 2 wks15
  rotorrarely, 1x per 2 wks20
 shadesprayrarely, 1x per 2 wks10
  rotorrarely, 1x per 2 wks20
Zoysia japonica (wide blade zoysia, El Toro, JaMur, Palisades)sunsprayas needed, max. 1x/wk10 to 15
  rotoras needed, max. 1x/wk20
 shadesprayrarely, 1x per 2 wks15
  rotorrarely, 1x per 2 wks20
Common shrubssunsprayrarely, 1x per 2 wks10 to 15
  rotorrarely, 1x per 2 wks20
 shadesprayrarely, 1x per 2 wks15
  rotorrarely, 1x per 2 wks20
Common groundcoverssunsprayrarely, 1x per 2 wks10-15
  rotorrarely, 1x per 2 wks20
 shadesprayrarely, 1x per 2 wks15
  rotorrarely, 1x per 2 wks20

Light, Type of Heads, and Beds, Oh My!

Today’s blog talks about what is the most important aspects of irrigation, but probably the most overlooked. SmartIrrMonth I’m referring to efficient scheduling of the irrigation system, based on the amount of sunlight in your yard, the sprinkler head type, and to a lesser degree, the plant types in your yard.

These 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.  Then folks wonder why areas are brown or plants are dying.  (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.)

grass st augustine

shade means less water needed

Amount of Light

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.  The narrow, sides of our houses qualify for this designation.  Full sun areas need more water, usually; this is dependent on what the plant type is here.   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

As I’ve talked about in an earlier blog, 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 caused very high water usage at the property before it was discovered.

3110 Carnousty St6

rocks and native plants mean less water

Plant Material

Landscape material is the last component of the irrigation scheduling trifecta.  Landscape could include turfgrass, trees, shrubs, groundcovers, perennials, flower beds, annuals, natural areas (like tree motts), bare ground, rocks, and I’m sure many other things.  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 (I’ve seen plenty of sprinkler heads spraying directly into pools!).  Trees have usually been growing there longer than you’ve lived there, so they typically don’t need the extra water.

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.  They will survive without being irrigated twice per week.  I can’t count how many times I see native plants being watered more than the grass.  It’s counter intuitive to the reason for using natives.  So, turn those stations off completely and just water when they look completely stressed out.  (I’ll get down from my soapbox now.)

IMG_1106

natural areas don’t need extra water

I like to recommend that people put the stations that are shrubs or plants on a different program than the grass stations and set them to water once every other week (if needed; if there’s been no rain).  If you want to keep the shrub stations on the same program as the rest of the yard, reduce the time on those stations.  I recommended between 6-8 minutes regardless of if it’s sun or shade.  They really just don’t need it.  Many natives do best in dry, hot conditions and die with too wet soil.

Turfgrass is a little tricky too.  A lot of Bermuda grass gets planted here, yet is watered just as much as any other grass (namely, St Augustine).  What I said about native plants is true about Bermuda too, you’re growing it because it’s drought tolerant: it doesn’t need to be watered as much.  Bermuda grass that’s overwatered tends to get a lot of weeds growing in it.  If you have Bermuda, I recommend cutting back the watering time to once per week.  Let it perform.  Yes, Bermuda goes dormant in times of drought, but it’s not dead.  It will green up when it rains or receives irrigation.  It looks better with rainwater though.  Also, Bermuda is not going to survive in shady areas, it will thin out and eventually die.  It requires full sun to really thrive.

St Augustine grass has such a bad reputation as a water hog, but I don’t buy into it.  It’s not setting the controller, the yard owners are!  St Augustine does great in areas with partial sun or partial shade.  I’ve seen it look really good in full sun too, with less water than you may think.  It will also thin out in full shade areas, but does better than most grasses.  Ideally, St Augustine should be kept at 3-4” tall when it’s being cut to keep the soil from drying out.  I water my St Augustine yard with rotor heads for 20 minutes and it’s looking great.

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 device.  It will take a little tweaking to determine how many 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.

I have some specific recommendations on runtimes; you can access it here.  It’s a good place to start, when setting your controller runtimes, then make changes from there if areas may need more or less water.

Let’s keep using our water smartly!

Smart Sprinklers for Smart Irrigation Month

So here we are in July again this year!  How did it arrive so fast and so hot??  We know in these hot summer months, we tend to use more water outdoors, which is why July is designated as Smart Irrigation Month by the Irrigation Association and endorsed by Governor Abbott.SmartIrrMonth

I don’t think anyone deliberately chooses to look silly or be wasteful by watering during or immediately after a huge rainstorm, or during the heat of the day.  For commercial properties, it’s bad for their image to look so wasteful, so I would think they’d be the first to jump on the efficient bandwagon.  Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.  This brings me to my topic for Smart Irrigation Month—Upgrading your Irrigation System.

Updating, or improving irrigation systems, in my experience, tend to happen mainly when other big yard activities are going on—installing a pool or a new patio or deck; replanting the sod or a huge remodel of all the landscaping in the yard.  I don’t really see folks upgrading their systems, just because there’s a new model of controller or sensor.  While irrigation is technology, apparently it’s not the cool technology that people invest in as frequently as their electronic devices.

I think it’s because we don’t often visually see them or think of them nearly as much as our phones, or portable devices.  They seem to do a good job—the grass is alive, so what’s to change?  Well, technology has come a long way in the last decade in irrigation systems, which can save you money in water costs, conserve water, water more to the plant’s needs, and maybe have a little cool factor when you talk about your yard with your friends!  Maybe!

The two main areas your controller can be smart is when dealing with the weather.  Sensors and controllers are the two areas that can help you with determining if the yard even needs to be watered.

  • Sensors are still around—rain sensors, freeze sensors, and soil moisture sensors are the main ones.
    baseline soil moisture sensor

    soil moisture sensor

    • A rain sensor turns off the irrigation system (if it’s running) after a specified amount of water has fallen or it delays the system from turning on after a specified amount of rain—so all of its actions are during or after the rain. There’s no weather forecasting, or determination of if watering is necessary.  They have to be installed in an unobstructed location (like a fence or roofline) so that rain can fall in it.  I’ve seen them under trees and under buildings!  But, it is better to have a rain sensor than nothing!  By the way, they’re pretty cheap—about $35-$75 retail.
    • Tremendous improvements have been made in the soil moisture sensor arena. A soil moisture sensor is actually buried in the ground about 6-inches deep (yes, you have to have that much soil for these to work!).  They take moisture readings from the soil to determine if the soil is dry enough to require the irrigation to run; if it determines the soil is wet enough, it doesn’t allow the system to run.  Ideally, you’d want more than one soil moisture sensor installed in your yard, one in sunny area and one in a shadier area, otherwise parts of your yard may be under- or over-watered.  It’s more accurate watering than just watering because it’s a Saturday.  It’s watering because the soil actually is dry.  They are a little more costly than rain sensors, but more effective use of water.
    • Freeze sensors do not allow an irrigation system to turn on when temperatures reach a specific degree, usually around 40° These aren’t that common to have at homes, because we just turn off our irrigation systems for the winter.  Commercial properties tend to water more year-round and would benefit from a freeze sensor to prevent the irrigation from freezing and causing a hazard.
  • Weather-Based Controllers–this is where things have really gotten interesting.Logo-WaterSense
    • There are several controllers on the market currently that take into account the actual weather, either with a weather-station that is installed at your home (it’s not too large), or a near-by weather-station that the controller can connect to thru WiFi.  That said, you would need to have a WiFi connection at your property that the controller can connect to.
    • The controller checks the weather forecasts daily, if not multiple times a day, to determine if the irrigation system needs to run or not.  It may delay the irrigation cycle if rain or other inclement weather is forecast.
    • These controllers need some extra set up time.  Once they are installed, they are not just go to go.  You have to spend a little time to enter in information about each irrigation station in your yard, like what type of sprinkler head it is, how much light it receives, landscape material, slope, and even more.  There is the very real possibility that using one of these controller can increase your water use, if it’s not set up properly.
    • Many of these “smart” controllers have online apps or websites to use.  The irrigation can now be controller from your desktop, laptop, tablet or phone!  It’s a little nicer than standing in your hot garage to make adjustments, which is pretty cool!
    • Look for a controller that is WaterSense approved.  That’s what is approved by the City’s rebate, as it’s been third-party tested to maintain water savings.

The City’s Efficient Irrigation Rebate provides a rebate of 75% of the purchase cost of a sensor or weather-based controller for your existing irrigation system, so if you don’t currently have a working one, please get one and apply for the rebate!

 

After the Rain: Summer Lawn Watering

Do I need to water?

Do I need to water?

With temperatures beginning to soar into the 90s everyday, we need to start being aware of our water consumption—summer heat is coming!  You know it is.  Thanks to all the great springtime downpours (and floods!), we have had the luxury of low water bills since we haven’t really needed to turn on the sprinkler (aka: irrigation) system yet this year!  In order to prevent a shockingly high bill when you do start using your sprinklers regularly, (remember tiered rates are in effect), here’s my main advice about how to start watering smartly this summer.

So, how do I know if I need to water?

Has it rained recently?  If yes, then turn off the sprinklers!  We can really keep sprinkler systems turned off for a solid week, or longer, after a good rain event, to let the plants use the rainwater and the soil start to dry out.  We want Mother Nature to water our yards, its so much better than tap water thanks to the nitrogen in it AND saves us money.  Keep those sprinklers off at least 2 days for every 1/4″ of rainfall.

So, how do you know if your soil is dried out?  You can test how wet or dry your soil is with a soil moisture sensor—this is a device for automatic sprinkler systems that is buried in the yard to monitor the soil’s moisture and will either allow or not allow the sprinkler system to run based on how wet the soil is.  The City’s Water Conservation Program offers a rebate on this type of device.

soil moisture sensor

soil probe

You can also test your soil moisture with a soil moisture probe; this is simply a hand-held device that you push into the ground and the display tells you if the soil is wet, moist, or dry.  You can find one of these at most garden supply stores.  Or, a good old-fashioned long screwdriver will do the job too!  If you can easily push it into the ground, then you probably can hold off watering for another couple of days.  When you can’t push it easily into the ground, time to water!       

 

And how much do I water?

When you do turn on the sprinklers to start watering, don’t just turn it on full blast to the summer watering schedule—it’s not that hot yet!  Keep it moderate, meaning, water on the lower side; about half of your normal summer water schedule.  Then as temperatures increase over the rest of the summer, increase the areas that are looking stressed.  My recommendation is start with watering no more than once per week.  Then, when you notice the lawn or plants look droopy or dull-colored first thing in the morning, that‘s a sign it’s time to increase the water—this could mean add a second watering day, or just increase the time by 2 minutes on the areas that need it.

Remember, the goal is to not have to water!  We want to have drought-tolerant plants than need infrequent watering.  That happens by letting the soil slightly dry out between watering and getting those roots to grow.

We’re very lucky right now since we’re not under any water restrictions, so watering is allowed on any day.  This is great, because it means you can water when your landscape actually needs it, not just because it’s a Tuesday (or whatever day).   It’s always best to water before the sun comes up or after the sun goes down each day, to reduce evaporation.

If you are a direct City water customer and your property has an automatic sprinkler system and you are unsure of how to program it or concerned about its efficiency, you can  request a free irrigation system evaluation.  The evaluation consists of running through the system looking for problems, ways to upgrade or adjust the system to operate more efficiently, and providing recommended water schedules.

To schedule an irrigation evaluation or more water conservation information, contact Jessica Woods by email jwoods@roundrocktexas.gov or 512-671-2872 or visit www.roundrocktexas.gov/conservation for all program information and more detailed recommended watering schedules.

 

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.