outdoor watering

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.