Smarter About Water: 4 steps to protect our watershed

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You wouldn’t want to swim in dog waste, but that’s what is happening when we’re taking a dip in most of the waterbodies in our region. Dog waste, or more specifically the fecal coliform bacteria that it carries, is prevalent throughout the San Jacinto Watershed, of which The Woodlands is a part. In fact, it’s the number one contaminant in Galveston Bay, the end point for our creeks and rivers. This was just one of the insights residents gained at the latest Smarter About Water Seminar, an annual series by The Woodlands Township.

Justin Bower, Senior Planner in Community and Environmental Planning for Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC), outlined many of the issues facing our area waterways, examining impacts on recreation, drinking water and the environment. The lively question and answer session that followed underscored the critical importance of these issues to the audience.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. There are simple actions each one of us can take that will make a real difference for our water quality.

  • Assure that pet waste is picked up and disposed of in the trash – Whether washed overland or dissolved into the soil, pet waste that is left outdoors will eventually work its way into a local water body. More than a third of the bacteria in local water bodies comes from dog waste. Left unchecked, that figure is projected to climb to 50% within 10 years.  Contamination could grow to be almost half of the bacterial problem over the next 10 years.
  • Ensure lawn chemicals are timely and needed. Due to stress on the aquifer, a portion of drinking water comes from treated surface waters. Applying too much fertilizer to your lawn, or applying it right before a rain will send these contaminates into nearby lakes and streams, impacting water quality through algal overgrowth and reductions in dissolved oxygen. This is one reason why surface water is more expensive to treat than groundwater.
  • Conserve water and costs – The cheapest water we have is the water we have now. Developing new sources, including surface water, is expensive and will only continue to increase in cost over time. Avoid wasting water in your home and landscape to reduce the stress on our water sources.
  • Get involved in the decision making process – Lend your voice to the next round of community meetings regarding Cypress Creek and Spring Creek this fall. Discover what actions are needed to protect the health of the watershed and collaborate with others in finding solutions.

To review the current Watershed Protection Plan and other documents go to: https://westfork.weebly.com/project-documents.html

For more ways to protect and conserve water in The Woodlands Township, contact the Environmental Services Department by calling 281-210-3800, or send your email inquiry to enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Water-Wise Village Challenge – the results are in!

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The greatest number of households yet took the pledge to turn off automated sprinklers for the winter. Friends and neighbors spurred each other to pledge and shared the benefit of conservation, while Village Associations promoted the Challenge in the hopes of adding to their scholarship funds.

Many thanks to a record 649 households who pledged and congratulations to the following Villages with the most participation:

  • First Place: College Park
  • Second Place: Creekside Park
  • Third Place: Sterling Ridge

Did you pledge to turn off your automated sprinkler system this year? Not only did you save water, you were also a part of accelerating the transformation of thinking about water conservation in our community.

Now that spring is here and hot summer months are just around the corner, consider this: it’s estimated that as much as half of the water homeowners use outdoors is wasted due to evaporation, wind, or runoff, all factors of inefficient irrigation. Take time for a springtime spruce up of your sprinkler system before you set it and forget it.

Sprinkler Spruce Up

  1. Inspect your system for clogged, broken, or missing sprinkler heads that could be water wasters.
  2. Look where the sprinkler heads connect to pipes and hoses—if you find even small leaks, they can waste thousands of gallons of water per month.
  3. Direct your sprinklers to apply water only to the landscape, not driveways and sidewalks.
  4. Select a WaterSense labeled irrigation controller to automatically align your system’s schedule with local conditions and avoid watering during wet weather.

How much more water can you save this summer? Try these suggestions:

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2019 SMARTER ABOUT WATER SEMINAR

Mark your calendars for Saturday, May 11, where we’ll focus on ways to safeguard our watershed – strategies to employ at home, and actions part of the West Fork San Jacinto Watershed Protection Plan. The seminar is free but registration is required. Go to The Woodlands Township calendar page to learn more.

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Is there a better irrigation plan for your landscape?

Drip irrigation has some real advantages over traditional automatic sprinkler systems when it comes to saving water and money:

Irrigation Comparison Table 1

Learn how to install drip as part of your own sprinkler system at the Drip Irrigation and Rainwater Harvesting Workshop Saturday, April 6.

Local drip irrigation and rainwater harvesting specialists will provide both classroom and hands-on instruction. You’ll learn how to convert an existing sprinkler head to drip as well as how to install drip irrigation from an outdoor hose bib. With drip irrigation in place, you’ll be “efficiently” prepared for summer watering.

Our wet weather means that rain barrels are another great water conserving tool. At the workshop you will see how easy it is to capture rainwater  in your backyard, and will be able to purchase a rain barrel at a discounted price through one of our workshop sponsors, The Woodlands G.R.E.E.N.

Space for this popular seminar is very limited and registration is required. For more information or to register, see the calendar page.

DI + RWH Workshop

The Woodlands Emergency Training Center, located at 16135 IH-45 South, Conroe, 77385 – about one mile north of Hwy 242 on the northbound feeder road of I-45.

The FREE event has filled quickly in the past, so register early. Visit The Woodlands Township calendar for details and registration information, or call 281-210-3800.

Remodeling? Plan for water efficiency

A home remodeling project is a perfect time to consider how to maximize your home’s water efficiency. Bathrooms are where most of our water is used, accounting for more than 50% of all indoor water use.

When it comes to water use, the American mindset is shifting from one less mindful and therefore wasteful, to one more aware that water is a valuable resource to conserve.  We are fortunate to have easy access to some of the safest water in the world and it may be that very ease that results in our taking water for granted. Just how much water do we use? On average, an American family uses more than 300 gallons of water per day at home.

Here’s how it breaks down:

Water Pie Chart

In a 2014 Government Accountability Report, it’s noted that 40 out of 50 state water managers expect water shortages under average conditions in some portions of their states over the next decade. So it just makes sense to replace old or inefficient appliances and hardware with new, more efficient products.

That’s where WaterSense comes in. WaterSense is a partnership program sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). WaterSense labeled products meet EPA’s specification for water efficiency and performance, and are backed by independent, third-party certification.

WaterSense label

The WaterSense label on a product certifies that it is 20 percent more water efficient than average products in that category. There are WaterSense Products in many categories, including:

  • Faucets
  • Showerheads
  • Toilets
  • Irrigation controllers
  • Irrigation sprinklers

Stop by the Environmental Services office and receive a free faucet aerator or a replacement showerhead while supplies last. Both meet high water efficiency standards.

Environmental Services Department
8203 Millennium Forest Drive

 

Fix a leak

You don’t have to take on a remodeling project to conserve water. That annoying dripping faucet is more than annoying; five to 10 percent of U.S. homes have easy-to-fix leaks that drip away 90 gallons of water a day.

EPA’s annual Fix a Leak Week is March 18 through 24. You can learn more about how to locate leaks on the EPA  Fix a Leak Week webpage.

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Demonstration home

Check out the WaterSense demonstration home at Water University at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension in Dallas. To be WaterSense certified, homes must meet standard criteria in three areas: indoor water use, including plumbing, plumbing fixtures and fittings, and appliances; outdoor water use, including landscape design and any installed irrigation systems (which are optional); and homeowner education.

 

Resolution for a greener year

This New Year, while fine-tuning your list of personal resolutions, how about including a few goals to help the environment? Changing habits can take effort. One theory of behavior change is the Fogg Behavior Model (FBM). This model posits that motivation, ability, and triggers are the three key factors for any behavior change—the higher the motivation, the greater the ability to perform the new behavior and the presence of a trigger drive how well one can make a change.

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The Fogg Behavior Model. The different levels of ability and motivation define whether triggers for behavior change will succeed or fail.

Here are ten “triggers” for resolutions that can make for a healthier earth.

Who’s in?

Use reusable shopping bags. Plastic bags are the second most prevalent form of litter, with over 4 billion bags getting carried by wind, clogging storm drains and littering our forests, rivers, and oceans every year. According to Plastic Oceans, eight million tons of plastic end up in our waters each year harming marine life. Carry a tote or two and forgo the plastic bag.

Turn off the water while you brush. It can save up to 200 gallons of water a month. That’s good for your water bill and the environment. Learn more ways you can conserve water in your home at Sustainability.ncsu.edu.

Reduce your lawn. Lawns are water hogs that also are often chemically dependent. Cut back on turf grass and plant natives instead. This single step helps conserve water, reduces polluted water runoff, and enriches biodiversity.

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Compost kitchen waste. Organic waste in landfills generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas. By composting wasted food and other organics, methane emissions are significantly reduced. So refrain from dumping those nitrogen-rich coffee grounds or calcium-loaded egg shells and other organic kitchen waste. Enrich the soil instead. Learn more about the environmental benefits to composting at EPA.gov.

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Ditch paper towels. They may be easier, but in one year alone, Americans use 13 billion pounds of paper towels. That’s about 45 pounds per person. If everyone used just one paper towel less, 570 million pounds of paper waste would be eliminated per year. In case that’s not enough motivation to make a change, it goes without saying that paper towels simply can’t rival the charm of a vintage tea towel.

Eliminate phantom power usage. When household devices are left plugged in they still use energy—even those chargers with no phone or tablet attached. The draw may be small, but collectively and over time it adds up. Unplug. Or, use a smart power strip that reduces your power usage by shutting down power to products that go into standby mode. Doing so may save you some cash. Statistics vary, but experts say standby power consumption ranges from 5 to 10 percent of total household energy consumption on average.

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Cook from scratch. In a busy household, this may be challenging but the benefits are manifold. Processed foods come with loads of packaging that ends up in landfills yet deliver little nutritional value. Cut down on waste and improve health with some good old home cooking.

Bring your own water bottle. Not only do all the plastic water bottles we use require 17 million barrels of oil to be produced, in 86% of the time they end up in landfills. You’ve seen some of the neat reusable water bottles on the market—consider buying one and using filtered tap water instead. A Bottled Water Report by the World Wildlife Fund points out that there are more standards in regulating tap water in the U.S. and Europe than in the bottled water industry.

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Walk, bike, use public transportation. Bikes have been hailed as the most efficient transportation ever invented. Why not bike for those short trips? While helping to reduce emissions and saving on gas, you’ll be helping yourself stay fit at the same time.

Cut back on meat. This may challenge carnivores, but consider this: industrially farmed corn and soybean that feeds livestock is a major source of greenhouse gasses and air and water pollution. What’s more is that it takes more than 2,400 gallons of water to produce just 1 pound of meat. Yet, only 25 gallons of water are required to grow 1 pound of wheat. You can save more water by not eating a pound of meat than you can by not showering for six months!

When you crave that steak, only buy meat from grass-fed livestock. Eating less meat can have health benefits too. Check out more information about the benefits of reducing meat in your diet by The Mayo Clinic.

Every drop counts

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The news is the same everywhere: growing populations require more water, and the supply is limited. Add the changing climate to the mix and we can bank on more frequent and persistent periods of drought. Finding new water sources and ways to supply that water are too often economically out of reach. All this is driving more cities and municipalities across the country to move beyond temporary drought measures and adopt permanent changes to how available water is used.

Some of the more common policies, such as prohibiting washing driveways or vehicles at your home, banning water runoff from your yard, and even outlawing irrigation altogether are challenging some communities with change.

Home irrigation is the number one contributing factor to water waste.

Irrigation is the water-hog at homes across America. Not only is it the biggest use of our water supply, studies show that most homeowners over-water landscapes by as much as two to three times the amount needed.

Water Use Pie Chart

Did you know? According to USGS, when you consider water use in all sectors nationwide–not just residential–irrigation is among the top three. A full 24% of all the water used across America is to water our landscapes, third only to the entire public supply (30.5%) and all industrial use (27.6%).

Currently, in The Woodlands, the Woodlands Joint Powers Agency (WJPA) and the 10 Municipal Utility Districts it represents, require residents to follow the Defined Irrigation Schedule. Even numbered houses can water Wednesday and Saturday only, and odd numbered houses are limited to Tuesday and Friday. All homes must irrigate between the hours of  8:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. only. Remember: Starting mid-October, residents are encouraged to turn off irrigation systems through mid-April. There are no plans to discontinue the Defined Irrigation Schedule, at this time, and it will continue indefinitely.

There is good news…The Woodlands residents have embraced this policy and have made a big impact on water conservation. Two white papers, published by National Wildlife Federation and Sierra Club, have praised The Woodlands and its residents for exemplary work in water conservation. The Woodlands has also received several coveted state awards for water conservation. Nice going!

Since the inception of the irrigation schedule policy, The Woodlands residents have saved approximately
10 billion gallons of water.

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For more information, visit the Water Conservation page of The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department website at www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/waterconservation .