water rebates

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!

 

Watering in the Rain

Lots of rain happening of late, thanks to El Nino! It has delayed any watering in rain resizedoutdoor watering so far this year, which is great. If you happened to turn your irrigation system controller on before the rains came, hopefully you have a rain sensor (a.k.a. rain shut-off device) or other weather system that will prevent your sprinkler system from actually running while it’s raining. You don’t want to water in the rain! Let’s be honest, besides it being a waste of water, it really makes you look silly.

The Water Conservation program has been offering a rebate for rain sensors, freeze sensors, and other weather technology as part of our efficient irrigation rebate program for several years now. If you don’t have a rain sensor on your irrigation system, now’s the time to get one!

Now, a rain sensor like the one pictured, doesn’t predict when it’s going to rain. What it does is sense when rain is actually falling and stop the sprinklers from running if they are currently running, rain shut-offOR prevent them from turning on if they are scheduled to turn on shortly after the rain happens. Once the sensor dries out, it will allow the sprinklers to continue to operate according to its normal schedule.

There are sensors on the market that do predict, using live weather data, if it’s going to rain in our area, and prevent the sprinkler system from turning on. Those are slightly more expensive then the little one pictured above, but may be worth it to you. They use live weather data and your location (usually a zip code, address or GPS coordinates) to see if rain is expected for you and doesn’t allow the system to run if the chance of rain is greater than X percent. That X is usually a number you can adjust — like 30 percent. The irrigation rebate applies to this technology too.

So, install those rain shut-offs and let Mother Nature water the yard for you!

For more on rain sensors, watch my video!

 

NEW Lawn Aeration Rebate!

All the late winter rains have been great, and I can’t wait to see all of the wildflowers that should soon be blooming! aeration Hopefully, most of the rain did some good on your property, rather than just runoff.  One way to keep water on your lawn and help you have a stronger, healthier yard, is aeration.  I know I’ve spoken about aeration before, but will do it again!  It’s just so good for the soil!

Lawn aeration is a great way to help your lawn stay viable and healthy, it encourages deep root growth of the grass by providing space for the roots to grow, which helps with drought tolerance.  With more space, the water that is applied to the lawn (either rain or sprinklers) will now go down further into the soil, rather than running off.  I highly encourage everyone to have their lawn aerated annually to promote the root growth, help erase some of the compaction issues that some of our lawns face (I know I walk on the same trail in my backyard all the time, which only adds to compaction), and help with some thatch issues.  This all boils down to the fact that you won’t have to water as much, which is a huge benefit too…we ARE still in a drought.

The picture to the right shows the soil cores that are removed from a lawn during the aeration process.

To make getting your lawn aerated a little more lucrative, the Water Conservation Program is introducing a new rebate program for a limited time this spring/summer–a lawn aeration rebate!  The rebate is up to $50 rebated back to you, after you have your lawn aerated.  You can rent a machine and do it yourself (but they are pretty heavy!) or hire someone or a lawn company to do it for you.  Simply fill out the application and submit it along with a copy of the paid invoice for the service.

The rebate is only a pilot, to see how much interest there is in it, so no applications will be accepted after August 30, 2015.

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.