By John Smith, Butte County Master Gardener, June 19, 2015
To check your water usage, first locate your meter. Bring a screwdriver, a flashlight, and pen and paper with you. Use the screwdriver (or similar lever-type tool) to wedge into the slot on the “lid” over the meter, and lift it off; then shine the flashlight inside to make sure no black widows or other dangerous creatures are lurking in there. You will probably have to brush some debris off the face of the meter. When you do, you will be looking at a large circular dial, a smaller blue dial, and, below them both, a series of numbers. Write those numbers down. This is the base you will begin with. Once you have those numbers, you can start to calculate your daily water consumption.
Each full number in front of the decimal point on that gauge represents one unit which is 1Ccf or 748 gallons of water. The numbers to the right of the decimal point are in 1/100s (one-one-hundreths) of 748. The larger dial moves clockwise, indicating water use up to 748 gallons; when that number is reached, the full number on the gauge increases by one. The smaller blue dial indicates that water is being used at that moment. If all of your water is shut off, the blue dial should not be moving. If it is, you have a water leak or water on somewhere on your property.
There are several ways to use this information to become a more informed water user and to reduce overall water consumption.
- If you note down the water gauge number late on a night when you are not irrigating, then check the gauge again in the morning, you should be able to tell if you have a water leak somewhere on your property. –If the gauge tells you that water has been used when you have not, to your knowledge, used any water, somehow water is leaking out.
- Test how much water you actually use when hand watering with a hose. It certainly seems like hand watering uses much less water than sprinklers – but does it really? Check the number on your water meter, then, using a stop watch, see how much water you actually use in one minute with the hose on full force. Or see how many seconds it takes to fill up a five-gallon bucket watering can.
- Check that water meter number, then take your usual shower, and check that number afterwards. Subtract the smaller number from the larger and multiply that decimal number times 748. Your answer will be the number of gallons used.
- If you have an automatic watering system, record your pre and post irrigation meter readings, then use procedure above to calculate gallons of water used each time your irrigation system runs.
Those living in the Paradise Irrigation District (PID) have access to a more advanced individual water-usage information system than those with Cal Water. The water meters of PID customers are green (easy to spot). A system known as "Aqua Hawk Alerting" reports water use every hour on the hour. This information is updated online every 24 hours. PID customers can log in online to view their previous day's water use. This system allows users to look at a daily water use graph which is helpful in evaluating the effect of their water-saving strategies. Aqua Hawk will notify customers by phone, text, or email if it detects a possible leak. This system also allows customers to specify an amount of water (in gallons) or an estimated bill amount (in dollars) that they don't want to exceed. If water consumption or bill amount exceeds or is projected to exceed the threshold value,AquaHawk will send a notification. This is very helpful in meeting water budgets.
Cal Water has not adopted this reporting technology, but by logging in their account number online, Cal Water customers can view graphs of their monthly water usage, comparing 2013 and 2014 usage with the newly-reduced monthly targets.
By Eve Werner, Butte County Master Gardener
California Water Service is offering rebates for those in single-family residences who remove lawn and replace it with drought-tolerant plants. This is a great opportunity—it is not difficult to realize landscape water savings of over 80% through careful plant selection, site preparation, and accurate application of irrigation. .
However, the current rules for the rebate require that homeowners complete their lawn removal project within 120 days of gaining approval to start work. Please note that four months is not enough time to properly kill many Chico lawns, especially those which contain Bermuda grass. If the lawn replacement project is started during the summer, the time restriction on the rebate forces replanting during our hot season, which can result in the stress or death of the new plantings.
The optimum time to plant a dry garden is between November, when the first rains begin to fall, and February. Planting during that period gives plants a chance to establish roots before the summer heat arrives, and before the soil begins to dry out.
In the meantime, you can properly kill your lawn. Our next Real Dirt column will explain how to do just that.
By Brent McGhie, Butte County Master Gardener, February 7, 2014
Since this is shaping up to be one of the driest years in California history, it's appropriate to look at ways to conserve water in the home garden. A good starting point is the garden soil itself. Sandy soils tend to drain too rapidly, while heavier clay soils may drain poorly and not provide sufficient oxygen for plant roots. Adding organic compost to the soil will help rectify both of these situations. Organic material increases the water-holding ability of sandy soils and loosens clay soils, so that they are better aerated.
A lawn is normally the single greatest water-user in the home landscape, so unless it serves a specific purpose, such as entertainment, or a play area for pets or children, you might consider replacing it. Lawn substitutes can include planters, ground covers, mulches or hardscape features such as decks or patios. If you choose to have a lawn, the type of turf will affect water use. Warm season grasses such as Bermuda grass, St. Augustine grass, or zoysia grass typically require about 20 percent less water than cool season grasses like tall fescues or bluegrass. Water only when necessary. If you step on the lawn and it springs back when you move your foot, it doesn't need water. Aerating the lawn will maximize water penetration and the duration of watering should be timed so that excess water does not run off of the lawn due to saturated soil. Adjust sprinklers so that water does not end up on concrete or gutters where it is wasted. For lawns and all landscape plants, watering in the early morning hours when wind and temperatures tend to be low means less water will be lost to evaporation.
If you are deciding what to plant, California natives from our climate zone are a good choice. They will need regular watering at first, but can often survive with little more water than they receive from average rainfall after they are established. Try to limit the use of plants that require frequent irrigation and, for efficiency, group them in areas where they can be watered together.
All plants should be watered only when necessary. Check on soil moisture and adjust your watering schedule frequently to reflect seasonal variations in temperature, wind and rainfall. Any plants with similar watering requirements should be grouped and watered with separate valves. Although sprinklers are the best way to water lawns, the most efficient way to water other plants is with drip or soaker hoses. This minimizes water loss through evaporation or runoff. Infrequent, deep watering results in deeper root growth, which in turn allows plants to develop greater tolerance for hot, dry weather. It is important to maintain your irrigation system, checking for leaks, broken sprinkler heads, clogged drip emitters and other problems that could result in wasted water or stressed plants.
A drought year is not the time to engage in excessive pruning. Such pruning can lead to heavy plant growth and a resulting increased demand for water. Light pruning during the winter can shape a plant without stimulating excess growth. And early summer pruning reduces vigor, leaf area and water demand without stimulating excessive growth.
Over-fertilizing can also result in excess plant growth and extra water consumption.
There are several advantages to mowing lawns slightly higher during hot weather. Their growth rate is slowed (reducing water demand) and deeper root growth is encouraged. Taller grass also shades the soil, which lowers evaporation and reduces weed seed germination.
Finally, think twice before running water. Indoors, for example, flush the toilet only when necessary. Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth. Capture water in a bucket or a large pot while the shower or the dishwater is warming up and use it to water garden plants. Using a broom instead of the hose to clean a driveway can save hundreds of gallons of water. Leaving the hose running while washing a car can waste 150 gallons of water; instead, re-fill a bucket with water as needed, and turn off the hose. It's often just a matter of common sense.
Geisel, Pamela M. "Pub. 8036 Water Conservation Tips for the Home Lawn and Garden." Anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu. UCANR, n.d. Web. http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/pdf/8036.pdf
"Water Conservation in Your Garden & Landscape Checklist." Colusa County Farm Bureau. UCCE, n.d. Web. http://cecolusa.ucanr.edu/files/65442.pdf
Kim, Dohee. "Questions and Answers about Water Conservation." UC Cooperative Extension Connection. UCANR, n.d. Web. http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=5356
Water Conservation Suggestions for Your Home Vegetable Garden." UCCE Master Gardeners of Trinity County, n.d. Web. http://cetrinity.ucanr.edu/files/180197.pdf