outdoor watering

Time for a Sprinkler Spruce Up

Spring is arriving here in Central Texas, the flowers are blooming!  The onset of warmer weather can get you itching to turn the water on outdoors. 

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.  You can also sign up on the City’s water portal to receive leak alerts and to view your monthly, weekly, and daily water use at www.RRTXwater.com .

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.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Sprinkler System Check-Ups

Can you believe it’s July already??  July is “Smart Irrigation Month” deemed so by the SmartIrrMonthIrrigation Association since 2005, because that’s typically when the hottest temperatures occur.  With high and hot temperatures come higher water use, it’s just a given.  We still want our landscapes to look as good as they have the rest of the year, so we crank up the water.

It’s been a slightly different year already: we haven’t had a 100-degree day yet!  We’ve only had a handful of 90-degree days!  And, we’ve been inundated with rainfall all throughout May and June (which have refilled the lakes! Yay!); so we really haven’t needed to use the irrigation system at all so far this year.

That’s all great news!  But now that it’s becoming increasingly hot and muggy, I know we are itching to turn on those sprinklers!  Before you do, I advise you to do a quick check of the system, to make sure it’s working properly.  Details of how to this are below:

Performing a check of the irrigation system, (aka an Irrigation Evaluation, or Irrigation Audit) is the cornerstone for maintaining the system.  If you are a direct water customer of Round Rock, Water Conservation staff (that’s me) will schedule and do this for you; however, it’s simple enough that you could do it yourself—and it’s highly recommended to check you system monthly!  I recently found a broken head on my own system that I hadn’t noticed or even realized was there, that got hit when the grass was last mowed.   So, how do we check it?

  1. First you need to go to the controller and turn the dial to “test” or “system test” if that option is there (Rainbird controllers have this). If you have this option, great!  The number you see in the display are minutes that, once started, will run each station for x minutes and then turn off.  A good default number is 2 minutes.  After selecting 2 minutes, push the manual start button on the controller to begin the system test.
    1. If you DO NOT have the “test” option on your controller, you can simply program one in. Just choose a program that you are not using for your normal watering cycle—probably the C program.  You don’t need to enter in start times or water days, only watering times; so for each of your stations, enter a runtime of 2 minutes.  Then start the program manually.
  2. Once the system is running, you are looking for problems, issues like sprinkler heads turned the wrong way and spraying the street, rather than the grass. Or heads that do not pop-up over the grass (that’s why there’s that dry spot!), or heads that are clogged, and no water is coming out of them. You could also look for leaking heads, broken nozzles, and other leaks.  For an idea of what some of this looks like, see my blog “What is Water Waste?” from last month.
    1. The simplest, and most worthwhile, thing to fix is misdirected heads; most of them can simply be turned to face the appropriate direction by using your hand to grab the head (essentially the neck) and physically turn it. This prevents water waste, poor coverage, and ensures the water is used, rather than running off the property; all of which are positives for you and your property.
    2. Nozzles that are clogged are easily be cleaned out (when the system is turned off!). Unscrew the nozzle, rinse it and the filter off, and screw it back on.  You may use an old toothbrush or toothpick to clean out the emitter where the water sprays out of the nozzle, it’s pretty small.  Once screwed back on, turn the system on to make sure you have put it on facing the correct direction and it’s watering what it needs to be.
    3. Low heads or heads that do not pop-up over the grass is due to either too tall grass, which is really not a bad thing, usually, or more likely, the heads have settled over time and just sunk into the ground. They need to be replaced with taller heads in order to have better coverage—to get the water out far enough to water what’s it’s supposed to.  You can replace this head yourself with a taller head (they are sold by height in inches, so if you have a 4” head currently, you may increase to a 6”), or depending on the amount of low heads, you may hire a licensed irrigator to do this, as there is a degree of professionalism needed.  You don’t want the heads sticking up over the grass and become a hazard when the grass is mowed.

So that’s the basics of performing a system check!  Do it monthly to actually see how the system is working, that what is supposed to be watered is actually being watered, AND, most importantly, make repairs and adjustments to the system to keep it running efficiently!

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.

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.