The week of May 6-12, 2018, we’ll be celebrating Drinking Water Week here in Round Rock. Come visit our information table in the Round Rock Public Library to learn some interesting facts about water in general and our water here in Round Rock. Do you know where it comes from? Do you know how much we use daily? Come find out the answers to those questions and more at the library Monday, May 7 through Friday, May 11.
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;
- 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!
I want to follow up on my last blog, Reading Your Water Bill, to see how much water you and the people in the property with you (a.k.a. your family), are using. Have you done it yet? To refresh your memory, it’s looking at the gallons of water being used, rather than just looking at the dollar amount. On average here in Round Rock, a person uses 75 gallons per day. How did your house compare?
So today, in addition to looking at the gallons, I want you to pull those bills out again and look in two other places that will offer you insight into what’s going on with your water bill and what’s going on around the City’s water department.
Now that you know where to find the gallons of water used, you should know WHEN these gallons were used. Meaning, the billing dates. A lot of times we hear remarks from customers saying there’s no way they used the water, or (sometimes) thinking the usage would be higher because of something that happened at their house. It all depends on the dates the meter was read for the bill. You can find those dates on the back of the bill.
Look at the top, middle of the back of the bill under the words “READ DATE.” This tells you the “previous” and “current” reads, along with the dates. This is the time period that you are being charged for. The dates in the example are September 19, 2016, and October 19, 2016. The 12,400 gallons of water used on this bill was for that month of mid-September to mid-October.
Don’t be surprised if the dates on your bill are from over a month ago. That’s the way it goes with water billing. You are charged for what you use, after you use it (so we know how much to charge you for); and then it takes some time to create the bills and mail or send them all out.
If you are surprised by the amount of gallons of your bill, you can check those dates the bill is for and then look at your calendar (if you’re like me: the big paper calendar hanging in the kitchen with everyone’s activities on it!) or search your memory, or phone, to think about what was going on weather-wise or around your house at that time. Did you have new sod installed and had to water it more? Was the weather very rainy and you turned off the sprinklers for several weeks? Did you have a toilet running for a few days? These are all things to think about when looking at your water bill, as they all affect it.
Next, the second place to look is on the front of bill at the SPECIAL MESSAGE section. On my example bill, this area is circled in green, and it’s empty! No special messages this time. However, it’s a good idea to glance here to find out what is going on the City. Here’s where we’ll make a note about rate changes, waste water averaging, rain barrel sales, water rebates, and other interesting information. You wouldn’t want to miss out on a great opportunity by not reading this section!
That’s it! Thanks for learning about your water use!
I want to ask you a very important question: Do you read your water bill? No, not just look to see how much you owe; but look at how many gallons you used during the last month? No? Not really even sure how? Or what you’re looking at? I understand! I feel that way about my phone bill!!
In this blog I wanted to point out several things to start looking at on your water bill. Maybe not every month, but at the very least each quarter or each season to check in and see how you are doing with your usage. This may run long though, so I’m going to break it into a small series of things to look at on your bill.
Today I want to point out what I consider to be THE most important place to start looking at on your monthly bill, because you can’t save water if you don’t even know how much you’re using! Right? And then, you’re going to need to know if that amount is a high number or low one. And what (or how much) is a “normal” amount of water to use each month?
Of course, I have no exact answer about how much water is “normal.” The answer depends on several factors, like the number of people in the house and their ages, the age of the home or the age of the appliances (like the toilets, dish and clothes washers, showerheads, and faucets), and whether your house has a water softener. I’ll discuss this more at the end.
So look on the front of the bill at the little graph that shows the gallons of water used during each of the billing cycles for the last year (note: chances are the billing cycle is not for the entire month, it’s part of one month and part of another). The x-axis (bottom) shows each month’s usage and the y-axis (vertical) indicates the gallons. See the upper bill picture, I’ve circled the water use graph in red. We measure the amount of water used each month in gallons—the same amount as a gallon jug of milk and you are billed by the thousand gallons used.
Another place to look at the amount of water used each month is the back of the bill. Here is written the actual number of gallons used for the current bill. See the bill at the bottom, I’ve circled that amount in orange. The water bill says “total consumption in gallons” and then 12,400 is to the side. That’s 12,400 gallons used this last billing cycle.
Now, many things can determine how much this number will be, as I’ve already listed a lot of those variables–number of people in the house, age of house and appliances, etc. I will tell you that here in Round Rock, our average winter bill is for 5,868 gallons and our average summer bill is for 12,252 gallons. How does yours stack up?
Also on average, we here in Round Rock use 75 gallons of water per person, per day. Of course, this is average because a baby isn’t going to use that much, yet a teenager may use more! You could make it easy for yourself and say each person in your home uses 100 gallons each day. The average billing cycle is 30 days, so that would be 3000 gallons for each person each month. If you have 2 people in your house that would be 6,000 gallons for your water use would be “normal” or expected.
This number can be greatly reduced by installing low water use (or efficient) fixtures, especially toilets and showerheads since they are used the most and the most often (multiple times a day). Don’t forget the City has a rebate program for water efficient toilets and clothes washers. Find out those details at www.roundrocktexas.gov/conservation If there was any one thing you wanted to do to reduce the amount of water in your home, I would say replace your toilets. If your home was built before 2000, I would replace the toilets with newer WaterSense models. This allows you to save water without changing anything, you’ll still flush the same way.
I will say those efficient appliances really do make a difference. My family of 4 (2 teenagers and 2 adults) uses right at 3,000 of water each month for all of us. We installed new WaterSense toilets, showerheads, and a Energy Star dishwasher when we moved in 2 years ago. Our house was built in 1999. We don’t have a water softener. We do have an irrigation system (that’s turn off currently!). The clothes washer is a front loader that’s about 6 years old. We do use them all several times each week! It really is possible to reduce your consumption without it being a chore.
Now pull out those bills and take a look! Next time I’ll point out a couple more places to look on the bill.
For this blog, I’m going to take a different approach and not talk specifically about conservation, but more about water in general. The fact that most Americans take water, and the systems that bring it to and from homes and businesses, for granted. We turn on the tap, and safe drinking water reliably comes out. We flush the toilet, and don’t have to think twice about how that wastewater will be taken away and safely treated before it is returned to the environment.
But could you imagine a day without water? Without safe, reliable water and wastewater service?
A day without water mean no water comes out of your tap to brush your teeth. When you flush the toilet, nothing happens. It means firefighters have no water to put out fires, farmers couldn’t water their crops, and doctors couldn’t wash their hands before they treat patients.
A day without water is nothing short of a crisis.
While unimaginable for most of us, there are communities that have lived without water, without the essential systems that bring water to and from their homes and businesses. The tragedy in Flint, Michigan has dominated news coverage for months. Epic drought in California has dried up ground water sources, causing some residents to relocate because they couldn’t live in a community without water. Overwhelmed wastewater systems have habitually forced beach closures along the Great Lakes because of unsanitary sewer runoff. Flooding and other natural disasters have knocked out water and wastewater service in communities from Texas to South Carolina to West Virginia.
America can do better.
The problems that face our drinking water and wastewater systems are multi-faceted. Systems have been underfunded for too long. The infrastructure is aging and in need of investment, while drought, flooding, and climate change all place extra pressure on our water and wastewater systems. Different regions face different water challenges, so the solutions to strengthen our drinking water and wastewater systems must be locally driven. But reinvestment in our water must be a national priority.
The good news is while the challenges are great, our capacity for innovation is greater.
Investing in our drinking water and wastewater systems, secures a bright and prosperous future for generations to come. We need to invest in our local water systems. Public officials at the local, state, and national level must prioritize investment in water, because no American should ever have to live a day without water.
Public private partnerships play an important role in building the drinking water and wastewater systems of tomorrow. Innovation is driving the water sector, and will allow us to build modern, energy efficient, and environmentally advanced systems that will sustain communities for generations to come.
None of this will be easy work, and nothing can be taken for granted. But water is too essential to ignore the crisis in front of us. We need to prioritize building stronger water and wastewater systems now so no community in America has to imagine living a day without water.
Here in Round Rock, we want to offer you, our residents, a peek into the City’s water infrastructure. We’re hosting a free tour of the City’s water treatment plant on September 15, 2016, at 5:30pm. Space is limited. To sign up for the tour email the Water Plant Manager to reserve a spot and get directions.
We will also have tables at the Round Rock library on September 15th between 10am – 4pm to provide information and goodies about how to keep our water clean, abundant, and healthy. There will be representatives from the City’s water utility, wastewater utility, water conservation, and stormwater programs available to talk to, ask questions to, and learn more about this resource we can’t live without!
I know I have heard this too many times this summer, “there’s NO WAY I used this much water!” “It’s impossible!” “The meter must be wrong,” or some version of “the City isn’t really reading the meters, but estimating.” Well, let me tell you, it IS possible to use a lot of water (I’m talking 30,000 gallons, 50,000 gallons, 70,000 gallons…or more!). I’ve seen it. A lot. I have seen it due to leaks, or from sprinkler systems, but I’ve never seen it from someone stealing water from their neighbor! (ha! People say that a lot too.)
I say this with 15 years of experience behind me doing this type of work. So, not just this year, but over many years of looking
at sprinkler systems and how they are set and reading water meters. I still get surprised that people are surprised to find out that high water use is possible and the City ISN’T wrong. We just really use more water than we realize we do, especially when it comes to sprinkler systems. This really boils down to an education problem.
When we receive our bill, we automatically look at how much we owe, right?!? I know I do. That’s what really affects me anyway, how much do I owe the City? What we really need to look at is what’s included in that final cost AND actually look at the gallons of water that we used. That will tell you much more than the amount you owe.
On Round Rock’s water bill, what’s also included in that cost (besides the water), is wastewater (sewer) charges, garbage and recycling collection, stormwater (or drainage) fees, and taxes. The water portion of the cost is maybe less than half of what the actual amount is you owe.
Look at that little graph. That shows you the gallons of water your household has used that month, and the past several months. It’s also under the “water” section of the bill on the back. That’s a better way to judge how much water you are using each month. [Of note, a very average amount of water used each month is 2,000 gallons per person, per month. Again, that’s pretty average.] If you are using more than that for your family, you may check toil
ets for leaks, or consider replacing any old toilets with new, efficient ones (remember, the City has a rebate for that), and bring your water use down.
Also, the graph should, ideally, be shaped like the one in picture, that’s what we expect to see. It’s a bell curve: Low use in the winter, a little higher in spring, peaking–the highest–in summer with the highest month usually August or September, then lower in fall and back to lowest in winter. That’s a water use curve that is expected and means you are paying attention to the seasons, and the weather patterns and not using water outdoors when not needed (winter).
The water rates will go up, so just looking at the dollar amount isn’t always helpful, or provides any insight to what you’re using. I challenge you to look at your bill in more detail this month!
The heat is on, Finally!…or maybe you’re thinking more like me, and bring back the rain! Well, in the last few weeks with no rain and still none in the forecasts, our water usage has gone up. It’s increased. I know mine has at my house, I’ve had to water the yard some; and in the City as a whole, usage has doubled what we used during the first part of the year.
Have you wondered “Just HOW MUCH water does the City use?” And I don’t mean the City offices, I mean all of us that live and work here…all our homes, apartments, businesses…well, it really adds up to millions of gallons of water used everyday. How many millions exactly depends on lots of things, but the most important is the temperature. (naturally!)
We have this information on the City’s website. It’s totally accessible, after you choose like 5 different links before getting to that page. Here’s a handy link to get you right to the page that displays the water usage information. The City provides daily water use information in a graph, as well as lake levels of the lakes we get our water from (that would be Lakes Georgetown and Stillhouse Hollow). It’s on the Water page of the Utilities and Environmental Services Department page, way down at the bottom.
Also, this may be more than you want to know, but for the water (and graph) nerds out there, here’s how much water has been used monthly for the last year in Round Rock. (Since I’m both a water and graph nerd, I feel secure in being able to say that and not offend anyone!)
You can see that water use is low in the winter, and that is how is should be. It’s what we expect to see. That’s because fewer people are watering their landscapes (ideally everyone’s sprinklers are turned off, but that isn’t really the case). The City generally uses between 13 – 15 million gallons of water per day in the winter months. Summer usage is when we really need to pay attention to how high the use goes to ensure we have the water, have the capability of producing clean water, and distributing the water to everyone that needs it. Currently, our City usage has been 28 – 34 million gallons of water per day this last month. That’s a lot of water going onto our lawns!
Enjoy the water data! And keep being water smart.
Happy Summer! Now that the rains have slightly slowed down, and the sun is out (and the wonderful humidity is here), I’ve been seeing more people watering their yards and also hearing questions like “why is my grass brown?”
Before we dive into that, I want to fully acknowledge that I’m not a plant disease expert and I can’t diagnose many problems…but I can pick out a few! So, I wanted to point you to some good resources that may help you determine what type of lawn problem you’re having and offer solutions on how to fix it.
I also want to point out that a lot of plant problems come from having too much water (cough, rain, over irrigating, cough) and look surprisingly similar to problems with not enough water. Too much water do just as much damage as not enough water (like drowning a plant, keeping the roots too wet, fungal and rotting disease); so the answer isn’t always to throw more water on the yard. Especially with the continued rains, the soil still isn’t dried out enough to really need additional water yet.
The turf and disease experts in the state are undoubtedly the Aggies. When I last checked, their AggieTurf website was undergoing updates and expected to be up and running by July 2015. However, the old site is still there and has some great information and some decent pictures of turf disease. The Texas A&M turf researchers tend to be very analytical and formal with their responses, which makes some of their site not so easy reading. They are also quick to provide information on which chemicals to use, which I hope are always used as a last resort.
The City of Austin’s Grow Green program has a much easier to understand format, by using a chart that you basically answer simple questions to find the type of lawn disease you have. Their worksheet also tells you what is causing the issue and how to solve it, in a more friendly way. The Grow Green program offers a variety of methods—from organic, to so quite as organic!
Good luck keeping those lawns green!
Lots of rain happening of late, thanks to El Nino! It has delayed any outdoor 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, OR 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!
The weather has been hit or miss so far this spring for getting a little spring cleaning yard work done, but I’m not going to complain about the wet weekends!! The wildflowers have been gorgeous (check out my pictures) AND the rain has meant we haven’t had to turn on our sprinklers yet this year, which is great.
Even though we’ve had some pretty consistent rain, the lake levels haven’t come up too much. Lake Georgetown (Round Rock’s main water source) is holding pretty steady at 64% full. It’s a little higher than it was last year at this time, but still, not full! Lake Stillhouse Hollow has come up a little with the recent rain, is at 67% full.
If you haven’t been to Lake Georgetown in a while, I encourage you to go. It’s not too far, I drove over to take these pictures for this article. (What can I say, it was a nice day and I needed a current picture!) Simply take IH-35 north to the HWY 29 exit in Georgetown, head west (turn left at light). Turn Right onto DB Woods road and follow the signs to the scenic overlook or one of the many parks in the area. It’s great to actually see your drinking water source in person AND the area has a lot to offer recreation-wise!
On the picture that actually shows the lake, the portion I’ve circled is a screen on an intake pipe. This is basically like the City’s straws that are in the lake, sucking the water up and transporting it to our water treatment plant. The screen is what keeps out fish, trash, and other large debris from entering into the treatment plant. This is supposed to be underwater! That gives you an idea how low it is.
Because of the continuing low lakes levels, the Brazos River Authority has asked that all users of these lakes reduce their water use, so that’s why Round Rock and Georgetown have enacted their Drought Contingency Plans for the last year and a half. We are still under Stage 1 watering restrictions. This means if and when you water your yard, it can only happen on your assigned water days:
- For odd addresses, that’s Wednesday and Saturday.
- For even addresses, that’s Thursday and Sunday.
- No automatic irrigation is permitted between 10am – 7pm on any day.
- Watering by hand allowed any day, at any time.
Remember, when setting your sprinkler controller for the spring, it’s best to start low and slow; watering once per week or less is plenty for this time for year. When it starts to actually get hot, then increase the times.
Need more detailed information about the water restrictions? Visit the City website: www.roundrocktexas.gov/departments/utilities-and-environmental-services/water/drought-restrictions/