outdoor water use

Smart Irrigation Month Outreach booth

Summer is here!  July is designated as Smart Irrigation Month, since it’s one of the highest water using months of the year.

Find out irrigation tips at www.irrigation.org/swat or come chat with City water staff in person.

City of Round Rock Water Conservation, Backflow, and Storm Water staff want to help you keep water use (and your bills) low this summer.  Come out and visit with us on each Wednesday for the next month to learn smart ways to help save water this summer—and year-round.

We will:

  • Provide lawn watering recommendations;
  • Schedule free irrigation evaluations (if qualified);
  • Give out tools to help find and fix leaks at your house, such as toilet leak tablets, plumbers tape, and faucet aerators;
  • Have examples of smart irrigation technologies;
  • Water tools like rain gauges and hose timers;
  • Answer your water use questions;
  • And more!

Visit with us at the following locations:

  • Freeman Park, Wednesday, June 24th from 9 – 11am
  • Round Rock West Park, Wednesday, July 1st from 9 – 11am
  • Prete Plaza, Wednesday, July 8th from 2-4pm
  • Meadow Lake Park, Wednesday, July 15th from 9-11am
  • Chandler Creek Park, Wednesday, July 22nd from 9-11am

Smart Irrigation Month Outreach booth

Summer is here! And July is designated as Smart Irrigation Month, since it’s one of the highest water using months of the year. 

City of Round Rock Water Conservation and Stormwater staff want to help you keep water use (and your bills) low this summer.  Come out and visit with us on June 24th and July 1st to learn smart ways to help save water this summer—and year-round.

We will:

  • Provide lawn watering recommendations;
  • Schedule free irrigation evaluations (if qualified);
  • Give out tools to help find and fix leaks at your house, such as toilet leak tablets, plumbers tape, and faucet aerators;
  • Have examples of smart irrigation technologies;
  • Answer your water use questions;
  • And more!

 

Freeman Park on Wednesday, June 24th from 9 – 11am

Round Rock West Park on Wednesday, July 1st from 9 – 11am

Smart Irrigation Month outreach

Summer is here!  And July is designated as Smart Irrigation Month, since it’s one of the highest water using months of the year.

City of Round Rock Water Conservation and Stormwater staff want to help you keep water use (and your bills) low this summer.  Come out and visit with us on June 24th and July 1st to learn smart ways to help save water this summer—and year-round.

We will:

  • Provide lawn watering recommendations;
  • Schedule free irrigation evaluations (if qualified);
  • Give out tools to help find and fix leaks at your house, such as toilet leak tablets, plumbers tape, and faucet aerators;
  • Have examples of smart irrigation technologies;
  • Answer your water use questions;
  • And more!

 

 

Spring Clean Your Yard

We already know that springtime or really, the end of winter, is a great time to clean out landscaping beds and cut away dead branches and plants to prep for the new spring growth.  In addition to cleaning gutters and planting beds, checking out your irrigation system is another great maintenance tip to get the yard ready for spring.

To get started, follow these simple steps:

  • Inspect Irrigation
    1. Check your system for clogged, broken, missing, or sprinkler heads that have been covered over by grass.  Better yet, go with a pro—find a TCEQ licensed irrigation professional to do the work for you.
    2. 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.
    3. Are you watering the driveway, house, or sidewalk instead of your yard? Redirect sprinklers to apply water only to the landscape.
    4. If there are areas with no landscaping, but ARE getting irrigated, consider capping those heads to save the water.  There’s no point in watering what doesn’t need the water (i.e. narrow side yards, around trash cans and air conditioner units, dirt).
  • Watch Your Water
    1. Check water pressure. Low or high pressure can seriously affect sprinkler performance; choose sprinklers based on the water pressure on your site.  High water pressure looks like mist, or fogging, coming out of the sprinkler heads.  This can be reduced with pressure reducing heads, nozzles, or valves.
    2. View your water use online on the City customer portal, www.RRTXwater.com  Here you can see daily and hourly water use and can monitor your use for unexpected spikes and usage.

 

  • Select Smart
    1. An improperly scheduled irrigation controller can waste a lot of water and money. Update your system’s schedule with the seasons; when you do turn the system on (it’s still too early!), don’t water more than once per week.
    2. Replace the battery in your controller (common with Hunter and Rainbird brand controllers). The 9-volt battery will help save the program in the event of an extended power outage.
    3. If you select a WaterSense labeled controller to take the guesswork out of scheduling. The city provides a rebate on them too. 
    4. Other “smart” controls that can help adjust watering based on real, “live” conditions are soil moisture meters, rain and freeze sensors, weather stations, and water flow meters.

 

  • Mulch is Magic
    1. Mulch prevents weed growth, retains water, and insulates the soil and plant during cooler months, which all means less irrigation is needed.
    2. Use mulch wherever possible around trees, in shrub beds, even potted plants, mulching to a depth of 3-6″. However, you do not want to mulch to be mounded next to the trunk of the plant, often called “volcano mulching.”  It should be more saucer shaped so water will not run off or away from the plant.  A flat mat of mulch allows the water to sink in.
    3. Since mulch breaks down, it should be applied annually. The City of Round Rock provides free mulch to our water customers as our Brush Recycling Center.

Taking a little time now could help prevent unexpected yard problems as the year progresses. Learn more about maintaining a water-smart yard by visiting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense website at www.epa.gov/watersense/outdoors.  Happy Spring!

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