water rebate

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!

 

New Year’s Water-lution!

It’s that time of year when we make resolutions about how to improve our lives for thLogo-we're for watere upcoming 12 months!  This year, how about a Water-lution?!  Resolve to save water–it may be easier than losing those “last” 5 pounds!  There are easy ways to save, especially when the WaterSense program can help identify appliances that are water efficient and will maintain their water savings over the years.  Sounds good, right?

When purchasing and installing products with the WaterSense label, you know you’ll get the water savings…unlike all that working out and dieting!  Is that 5 pounds ever going to go away?!?

WaterSense labeled products are backed by independent third party certification and meet EPA’s specifications for water efficiency and performance. So, when you use WaterSense labeled products in your home or business, you can be confident you’ll be saving water without sacrifice.

Also, the City’s toilet replacement program only rebates WaterSense labeled toilets.  Another good reason to look for WaterSense.

By clicking on the We’re for Water logo, you can take a pledge to save water and there’s great tips to get you saving.  It’s easy!  And there’s a money-back guarantee!  Just kidding…this is a free pledge.  (Though you could save money by fixing leaks.)

Happy New Year!

 

 

Best Seat in the House

As we’ve entered into wastewater averaging season (November – February), we are all trying to use the least amount of water possible so that our wastewater averages and charges will be lower this next year.  So, let’s talk toilets as a easy way to reduce the consumption of water inside your home.funny toilet  It involves no behavior changes, you don’t have to think about it, it just saves water each time it’s used!  First though, maybe I should explain wastewater averaging quickly, to make sure we’re all on the same page.

Wastewater averaging happens every winter.  It’s the way the City calculates what you’ll be charged on your utility bill for wastewater (or sewer, same thing).  The City doesn’t have meters on the wastewater lines coming from your property, so we don’t know exactly how much waste is leaving and we’re treating.  We make assumptions based on your water use.  During the winter months (November – February), it is assumed that all water used at your property is being used indoors (and goind down the drain–think sinks, toilets, baths, washers, showers).  It’s winter, the plants go dormant and we’ve had so much rain, no additional irrigation is needed.  Evaporation to pools is minimal.  So, this winter water use is the lowest amount of water used all year.  Those winter months of water use are averaged and that average is what you’re charged for wastewater the remainder of the year.  And yes, wastewater does cost more than water.  It just takes more time, chemicals, and other treatments to clean it, so the charges are slightly higher for it.

You have a direct impact on your wastewater charges by using less water during the winter months.  First, turn off your irrigation system.  Easy, done.  The next major impact–and my topic today–toilets.  Everyone uses one everyday.  They account for the largest use of water indoors, using up to 30% of our indoor water use.  The less water you flush, the lower your water use will be, and that directly impacts wastewater charges.  We’ve come full-circle now!

Now, the City has had a toilet rebate program, on and off, since 2009.  To be eligible for the rebate there are three criteria:Logo-WaterSense

  1. You must be a direct City of Round Rock water customer.  This is because the water conservation program is funded directly by a portion our customer’s water charges; MUDs and others not on City water do not contribute to the program and aren’t eligible.
  2. Your house or property must have been built before January 1996.  I get asked about that date and here’s why it’s there: In 1991 the EPA determined that all toilets manufactured and sold in the U.S. must use 1.6 gallons of water per flush (gpf) or less.  At that time, all the manufacturers did was fill up the tanks with less water, but kept all the plumbing parts the same.  The toilets were terrible and most had to be double-flushed, which is why the bad reputation is still made fun of today in sitcoms.  Water usage was actually increasing, rather than decreasing and the manufacturers knew they had to make other changes to the design of the toilets.  So, fast-forward a few years to 1995 and efficient toilets were redisgned and now actually flushing the way they were supposed to.  The date is there since all toilets manufactured since then were good, working 1.6 gpf toilets.
  3. The toilet(s) purchased must be WaterSense approved.  WaterSense is an EPA program that is basically like Energy Star, but for water use.  Items labeled with WaterSense label have been third-party tested for performance and lasting efficiency.  When purchasing a product that has the WaterSense logo, you know the product is good and will retain it’s water savings for it’s life expectancy.  The list is continually updated as more products get tested.

So, if you haven’t already paricipated in the rebate program, or replaced your pre-1996 toilets, it’s time to do it!!  The rebate program is ending permanently on December 31, 2013, so there is only a month left to take advantage of the rebate!  Why is it ending, you ask?  Well, starting January 1, 2014, all toilets sold in Texas must be 1.28 gpf or less, by law.  The City isn’t keen on providing a rebate on an appliance that is efficient, when that’s the only choice available. We’d rather start using the funds for another program.

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.