Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November

It’s that time again. Time to wind down our outdoor watering habits. As the colder months approach, our turfgrasses go dormant and need very little water. We’ve shared this message before, especially at the individual level. Still, let’s dive into a brief recap. Then, I want to explore what some of these ideas look like when we project them on a much broader canvas.

Daylight (Water) Savings
Water saved is money saved. That’s an important message that we here at the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District continually emphasize with the public we serve. It’s not some empty slogan, either—rather, a friendly reminder. I think it’s fair to suggest that most of us responsible for paying a monthly water bill likely have a number of other responsibilities clamoring for our attention on any given day. So, inevitably, from time to time, curveballs fly under our respective radars. Sometimes briefly. Sometimes not so briefly.

For instance, it is not uncommon for an irrigation control box to sit quietly unnoticed all winter, especially if, like most, it is programmed to water when you’re sleeping. So, here’s my idea. Let’s treat this article like a daylight savings reminder with one additional caveat for those of you who possess a sprinkler system.

On Sunday, November 5, 2017, we will all turn our clocks backward one hour. Those of us with sprinkler systems will turn our clocks back one hour—and switch off the sprinkler system. We won’t need to switch them back on until around mid-March. Incidentally, that’ll be right around the time to move those clocks forward an hour.

Let That Grass Take a Nap
Turf grasses around here stop making new shoots once soil temperatures drop below 70 degrees. A half an inch of water every four weeks is enough for your turf grass because it is not actively growing in this state. Typically, there is no need to apply that half inch yourself because, more than likely, your lawn will get it from rainfall.

It’s also worth noting that overwatering as cooler temperatures arrive, consequently, makes your grass more prone to fungal disease. It is common for those with automated irrigation systems to not notice overwatering issues until it’s too late.

What’s in a Dollar Saved?
Some of the monies saved are more obvious than others. Still, a dollar is a dollar no matter how an accountant’s ledger might divide it up—doubly so when it is your dollar. Obviously, there are the savings accrued from reduced usage. Some of us, including myself, live in areas where sewer water is not specifically measured, but rather assumed. In other words, the water meter can only read what goes into a household, not what goes back out to the sewer system. Thus, irrigation water, which does not go back to the sewer system, is still counted. It’s worth noting that some water providers provide customers winter averaging on sewer rates or irrigation meters. Many, however, don’t.

Now, at this point, some of you might be thinking I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. Perhaps. After all, most of us see our very lowest water bills during these cooler months, right? Yet, and this is where it gets tricky, there are so many different approaches to utility billing that it can be difficult to personally audit how your conservation habits factor into the big picture.

I’ll use myself as an example. My Municipal Utility District’s rate structure charges me $14.50 for 6,000 gallons of water per month and $26.70 for 6,000 gallons of sewer water. If I use 5,000, I’m still paying a combined $41.20 ($14.50 + $26.70) for 6,000 gallons going in and going out. If I use more than 6,000 gallons, the usage gets exponentially costlier.

Now, let’s say I had an automated sprinkler system and I forgot to turn it off. And let’s say it ran at night during this irrigation offseason and pushed me over that 6,000 gallon threshold—well, in that case, the savings would be very obvious. Shut the sprinkler system off, pocket the savings. Pocket even more potential savings from not having to combat fungal disease later.

Alternatively, let’s say I had an automated sprinkler system which I forgot to turn off during the irrigation offseason—but this time it didn’t push me over that 6,000 gallons. I’m still be paying that same baseline amount of $41.70. But let’s broaden this idea even more. There are more than 3,000 residential water meters within my MUD. Hypothetically, imagine ten percent of those were, like me, using more water than necessary but not necessarily seeing any uptick in their bill. We’ll just say that’s 300 meters. And, to keep it simple, we’ll say each is using 1,000 gallons watering dormant grass. That would be 300,000 gallons of water.

If I were to use 300,000 gallons within my MUD’s rate structure, the potable water would cost me about $1,079 and another $394 to treat the sewer water. That’s a total of $1,473. Is that amount a molehill? Or here’s another way to look at it. Let’s inverse this idea. Let’s assume those same 300 residential meters use that additional water for outdoor irrigation—even though their grass is dormant and doesn’t need it. That implies that 90 percent of the other households in this hypothetical, i.e. the other 2,700 residential meters, who are not wasting water on outdoor irrigation, are actually subsidizing those ten percent who are.

That 300,000 gallons of water didn’t come out of no where—nor was it delivered to those 300 hypothetical homes without a delivery system. That 300,000 gallons of water would have a real cost, including operating costs to produce it as well as ongoing maintenance costs for all the related infrastructure to deliver it. Therefore, if an entire MUD community worked toward reducing water waste, everyone would have some very real savings to show for it.

While it might not be so apparent when glancing at a water bill, that message back at the beginning is as simple as it is true—water saved is money saved.