outdoor water use

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  The restrictions were made effective back on October 14, 2013 and haven’t been rescinded yet.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.

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!

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.

When (Not) to Water, part 2

Rain, rain, come and stay!  Isn’t all this rain wonderful?  The plants and flowers in my yard are looking fantastic!  And everyone’s rain barrels are rain shut-offoverflowing!  Driving around town, I see plenty of great looking landscapes.  The best part is that we haven’t had to water our yards for a few weeks now, thanks to Mother Nature.

For those of us with automatic sprinkler systems that may forget to turn them off during rain episodes, I highly encourage you to purchase and install a rain sensor.  This will help save some water, save a little money, and certainly, save your image by not allowing your sprinklers to water during or just after a nice rainstorm.  I know I’ve seen many properties doing just that (watering while it’s raining)–and it drives me nuts!

Rain sensors prevent an irrigation system from turning on during or after a rain event, after a specified amount (you set this on the sensor) of water has fallen into it.  It then allows the system to turn back on and run according to its schedule after it’s dried out.  A sensor doesn’t stop the irrigation system from turning on when a rain storm is predicted, though there is technology out there that does just that.  That would be a weather station, that receives weather data several times a day to determine if watering is needed on any day or not.  One such sensor like this is called idd; all of the major irrigation manufacturers (Rainbird, HunterToro) have weather-based sensors that can be installed and set to water based more on weather conditions, or soil moisture, rather than just a set schedule.  This type of watering schedule is better for the landscape and can be modified to work with restrictions on watering days.

Any type of rain sensor is rebated by the City’s Water Conservation program, at 75% of the cost of the sensor.  Just submit the rebate application after the sensor is installed.  And if you haven’t yet turned off your irrigation controller, please go do it!

 

Water Restrictions in Effect

Well, if you hadn’t yet heard, the City is now under mandatory water restrictions!  I am personally not a fan of the word “mandatory” as it elicits the repsonse that you now have to do something…in this case water your yard.  This is a constant struggle, when to use the “M” word and when not to. Too many times, mandatory water restrictions cause water use to increase in a community or town. That’s exactly what we don’t want to happen! Folks think that since it’s their day to water, they’d better do it, or else it’s x many days before they have the opportunity to water again.  But, hopefully, common sense will prevail…especially with all the rain this week!

With the cooling temperatures, onset of Autumn, and regular rainfall, twice per week watering is more than enough.  Qlake_georgetownuite frankly, it’s too much for many areas like native plants beds and shady turf areas.  Of course, hand-watering is permitted at any time for any area that may need some extra help.  Properties that use rainwater to irrigate with are exempt from the water restrictions; so that’s another good reason to collect and use rainwater!

We have been asked why it has taken Round Rock “so long” to enact mandatory restrictions, which isn’t an easy or quick answer.  It stems from a variety of factors, with the two main ones being:  1. our Drought Contingency Plan (in Chapter 44) states that the City will enter into Stage 1 when Lake Georgetown reaches a level of 770′, currently the lake is at 773′, so we still haven’t met the first criteria for restrictions;  2. Our overall City monthly water usage has been low this year, much lower than use in 2012 or 2011, or 2009. We’ve seen monthly usage very similar to 2010, which was a wet year.  This means our customers (our residences) have already been using water efficiently at their properties.

So, if you choose to water once the rain has all passed, you may hand-water at any time you choose.  Homes with an even address water days are Thursdays and Sundays; homes with an odd-address are Wednesdays and Saturdays.  All commercial and multifamily properties days are Tuesdays and Fridays.  No irrigation is allowed between 10am – 7pm.

The photo is Lake Georgetown, Round Rock’s main water source.

 

When (Not) to Water

One of the most hotly talked about topics when it comes to watering your yard is: When do I water? or another version is: Does it need water? Is the answer “on Wednesday”, because that’s my day? Or when the plant actually needs it?? You can probably guess the right answer, but it’s hard to know when, exactly, the plant needs it. I can help you determine when it doesn’t need it.

With the rain showers we’ve had recently, it may not be necessary to water at all. Knowing how much rain has fallen in your yard helps make the first–and really, most important–decision for you: is it even necessary for me to water today? The rainfall measurements I take at my house don’t always match up to the City’s collected amounts at the Water Treatment Plant (which aren’t too far apart), so I highly encourage you to take your own rainfall measurement.

The rule of thumb is that half an inch of water is enough on a weekly basis for the spring, fall, and parts of summer. Less than that is needed in winter. rain gauge resizedMore, during the heat of summer. So having a rain gauge, any simple one, is the first way to judge if water is needed. All you have to do is check the gauge to see how much rain your house received, if close to 1/2-inch or greater, then no watering is needed. Easy!

To help make that even easier for you, the City’s Water Conservation Program is giving out free rain gauges like the one pictured. You can pick one up at the Utility Billing Office in City Hall (limit one per address). There’s a limited supply, of course, but try to get one if you can.

Now, thanks to Mother Nature’s rainfall, you can leave your irrigation system off for about a week for every half inch of rain–depending on the current temperatures.  With the current storms and the temperatures in the low 90s, no outdoor watering is necessary for the next week.  Enjoy letting nature do the work for you!

Welcome to The Water Spot!

I’m very excited to start a new blog for Round Rock’s Water Utilities and Environmental Department!  I’m Jessica Woods, the City’s Water Conservation Program Coordinator and my plan with this blog is to provide timely information regarding the City’s water conservation program–what new rebates we are offering, landscaping information, drought updates, water reuse project information, and whatever else seems interesting to me and hopefully to you!before_farout

What was a major catalyst for more water outreach is the drought.  We (along with the rest of the State) have been experiencing a drought for the last four years (more or less) and have received many questions from our residents about starting a program to encourage folks to remove grass from their yard and install native shrubs and plants instead (like Austin’s programs).  Well, we haven’t created a program like that yet, but we have begun taking a hard look at our own, outdoor water use and are slowly converting the landscapes at the City buildings to native plants and shrubs, smaller turfgrass areas, and more efficient irrigation systems.

One of our major accomplishments so far is the Police Station.  The property had two front parking areas and a lot of grass and weeds in the front.  Police Chief after_frontTim Ryle was interested in a major landscape overhaul, as the front parking lot was going to be removed.  See the before and after pictures of the remodeled Police Department below as proof.  It is still a work in progress, but the majority of the landscaping is completed–there are now crushed gravel walking paths, all native plants, trees, and cacti, and three types of turfgrass (Habiturf and two Bermuda varieties).  The existing irrigation system was basically junked and new drip irrigation was installed in all the beds.  The turfgrass is watered with efficient rotary nozzles.  Plant identification markers have been installed to name what the plants are and some interesting features about them.

Part of the parking lot is still under construction; however in the spring it should be looking fantastic!  We’d like to hold small landscape and irrigation seminars on-site to take advantage of the beautiful space.  Go past and see it for yourself!after_front_right

Now, I would love to see what changes you have made to your home landscapes to increase the drought tolerance and water efficiency of it!  It could be anything from removing turf, to collecting rainwater.  I drive around town A LOT during the work day and see many, many gorgeous yards that I do occasionally take pictures of for inspiration.  Please, send me pictures of your beautiful, water-smart yard and a little caption about why you changed it, or what you’ve noticed since changing it.  We’ll post these on our City Flickr page (in the Native Landscapes set) to give everyone a change to admire your hard work!  And, I’d personally love to see what you’re doing to get ideas for my own shady yard!  You can email me at jwoods@roundrocktexas.gov

Send me those pics!! 🙂