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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Water Q & A

Questions and Answers About Water Use in Central Texas

Q.  Why should I be concerned about controlling my water use?

A.  Because your water is a precious, limited resource. Central Texas is one of the fastest growing areas in the country. To ensure water supplies will be sufficient to serve future needs, water conservation needs to be a way of life for us, and not simply a response to periodic droughts.

Because conservation saves you money and saves energy. Conserving water saves on both your water and sewer bills; you use less water, and put less down the drain. Less water use means less pumping and lower energy costs for the utility.

Because conservation reduces excessive runoff into your rivers and streams. Watering less means less water running down streets and into storm drains where it can pollute your environment with fertilizers and insecticides.

Because conservation saves you tax dollars and fees by delaying the construction of new treatment facilities.

Because the State requires it. All water utilities are required by state law to prepare water conservation plans and implement specific control measures triggered by preset conditions such as water usage levels or drought duration. Utilities are also required to have specific conservation goals and will be required to report usage levels and actions are being taken to reduce per capita consumption. The regional water planning authorities and Texas Water Development Board have set the District’s objective to reach a .24% reduction in per capita consumption over the next 5 years.

Because it is the ethical and responsible thing to do.

Central Texas has a hot dry climate in the summer, and is subject to occasional drought periods. As summer temperatures rise and rainfall decreases, much more of our water system’s supplies are used for outside purposes such as watering lawns and trees, refilling swimming pools, and washing cars. In the summer, many customers use over 5 times what their average use is during the year, and about 60 percent of this water is used on landscaping. If the demand for outside use is greater than the District’s ability to treat that water, there may not be enough water for all uses. For example, even though everyone still has enough water, tank levels (our reserves) become much lower, and fire protection could be jeopardized. When pumping and treatment equipment is overworked, mechanical failures can occur creating water outages for everyone. When tank levels are lower, your water pressure will be lower.

Q.  Lake Travis looks full, doesn’t that mean we have plenty of water and don’t need to conserve?

A.  No, because all of that water doesn’t belong to us. What many people don’t realize is that essentially all of the water we see in lakes is already appropriated to river authorities, municipalities, and farm irrigation. The State appropriates water to applicants through a system of water rights. The applicants are responsible for making productive use of the water; otherwise the State can re-appropriate the water to other users through a process called adjudication. While all water carried in rivers and lakes is appropriated, all appropriated water is not sold. The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) which holds the rights to much of the water stored in Lake Travis is attempting to sell it to entities in the Brazos, Guadalupe and San Antonio River basins.

The water in Lake Travis is believed by many to be over appropriated. In a year of average rainfall, all water carried by rivers is fully committed for use. It is the storage volume of reservoirs that permits us to have water in years with less than average rainfall. When the state experiences another prolonged drought such as the one which occurred during the 1950s, there will not be enough water available to support all current uses.

Q.  Why can’t the District produce enough so I can use all the water I want? If I can afford it, why can’t I buy it?

A.  The majority of Texas water systems, including District 17, produce more than enough drinking water year-round. Even though the District is experiencing a period of explosive growth, we are constantly constructing new facilities to ensure all present and future customers have an adequate water supply. It is only during excessively hot and dry periods that demand may occasionally outpace supply as when everyone tries to water their lawns every day at the same time. If the lake level drops, the pumps have to work a lot harder to get water up to the plant, and they pump less. Electric companies often experience the same problem in the summer, and power “brownouts” are common. Anytime the temperature reaches 100 degrees (very common in central Texas) for several days, evaporation rates rise sharply, and vegetation loses much more water. Utility systems (and their customers) would incur huge costs to expand facilities to allow unlimited usage for only a short time during the summer.

Adequate supply does not mean unlimited use. The water treatment plant is designed for a maximum peak day production of 1 gallon per minute per living unit equivalent (single family home) or about 35,000 gallons per month for a 5/8 inch meter in a hot summer month. This is 30 percent greater capacity than the state requires.

Q.  Is that why the District wants me and my neighbors to water on different days in the summer?

A.  Yes! By managing water use during hot dry periods you’ll have less impact on the water system while meeting your own needs. When the heavy usage is evenly spread, the water plant can recover completely every day, and all tanks can maintain the proper storage. Every person who doesn’t limit his usage to a reasonable amount is putting more pressure on the water system than is necessary and is taking water from his neighbors.

Q.  OK, I’m convinced! What can I do to help conserve water in the hot dry weather?

A.  Without a doubt, the most important thing you can do is to carefully follow your utility’s watering schedule, and be efficient with your water use outside.

If you hire a landscaper or irrigator to set your watering schedules, be clear about your expectations. Some companies over water automatically to avoid complaints. Discuss over watering, routinely fixing broken heads and leaks, and not over spraying.

Be aware of how much water you are using. Look at your water bill, and in the summer, keep your usage under 35,000 gallons for a 5/8″ meter and 45,000 gallons per month for a ¾” meter.

Q.  But following the watering schedule doesn’t seem like enough. Won’t my grass die?

A.  Most landscape plants get more water than they need. You can keep landscaping alive even during the worst summer heat by following these tips:

  • Start early in the year! (Late March is best) to condition your lawn to the watering schedule. (From October to March, you probably will not have to water at all.) Water deeply 1 to 1.5 inches. This practice will encourage deep root systems and make for healthier, drought tolerant grass.
  • Use native plants that do well on little water.
  • Try not to plant or install new sod in the summer months. New grass, plants and shrubs require frequent watering for quite a while. Many new plants will die in the Texas summer heat even with constant watering. Give your plants time to get established before facing the summer heat.
  • Mulch around plants to hold in water and discourage weeds.
  • Install efficient irrigation systems. Avoid sprinklers with fine sprays. Don’t water during the heat of the day (10AM to 7PM) when 60% of the water will be lost to evaporation. Install a moisture sensor system so that you will not be watering when it is raining.
  • Use Drip irrigation for bedded plants trees, and shrubs.
  • Adjust automatic sprinkler systems so they water landscaping and not sidewalks, driveways and pavement.
  • Don’t water on windy days.
  • Water only enough to restore water lost to evapotranspiration (ET). If it rains during the week, subtract the rainfall from your required watering amount.

Q.  What is evapotranspiration?

A.  Evapotranspiration, or ET, is one method you can use to determine how much water your plants need. Your landscape gets water through precipitation or irrigation. Much of this water is lost due to evaporation from the soil or transpiration from plant surfaces – a process called evapotranspiration. ET data represents the “plant water need” or the amount of water your landscape needs for a specific time period. ET varies with weather factors such as temperature, humidity, and wind, and affects how much water is needed when irrigating landscapes. Other factors such as plant type and soil conditions also affect irrigation needs.

Weather stations in the area record data such as temperature, humidity, and wind to calculate ET values. As weather factors and day length change, the amount of ET that needs to be replaced changes also. Most weather programs in Texas give the ET rate on the evening news, and you can also get data from the Texas A&M site.
Water about 1.08 – 0.5 inches or about .58 inch on your watering day.

Q.  OK, but how do I know how long to run my sprinklers?

A.  Your irrigation professional can tell you, or you can easily figure it out yourself. Set out several empty tuna cans on your lawn about eight to ten feet from the sprinkler. Turn on the sprinkler and mark the time. Measure the amount of time it takes to accumulate about one inch (use the average of the depth in the cans). Longer watering is only wasting water and costing you money.

Q.  Where can I get more information on how to make my yard water smart?

A.  Contact Water District 17, Texas Water Development Board, WaterWise Council of Texas, or City of Austin Water Conservation.

Q.  What is water waste?

A.  Water waste is defined as:

  1. Failing to repair a controllable leak including sprinkler heads, valves , pipes, or faucets.
  2. Allowing irrigation water to run off into the street for a distance of 50 feet or more, or allowing it to pond in the street or parking lot to a depth greater than 1/4 inch.