Irrigation and Water Conservation

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Cary Sims
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.

I got a call from my water provider a couple weeks ago asking if I had a leak in my water line as my bill was substantially higher than normal. I assured them that I did not have a leak but was simply using much more than normal to keep my landscape from dying.

And I don’t think I’m winning the battle to keep everything in my landscape alive. To be honest, I did prioritize my vegetable garden and the landscaping around the house and, subsequently, my home’s foundation. Most of the lawn is having to fend for itself and is not doing well.

As we continue in this dry season that has only seen brief respite from a few showers, lets take a good look into watering basics.

First, you can make your existing landscape irrigation system more efficient. Set your timer for the early morning and consider changing your sprinkler heads to the more efficient spray patterns. Irrigation heads that spray a stream of larger droplets reduce evaporation that occurs with fine-misted sprayers that have much of the fine spray drift off target. Also consider adding the rain sensors that would delay irrigation if your hardscape had just received some rain.

Perhaps one of the best tips to share is the “soak and cycle” method. If that is a new phrase to you, be sure to study up the “soak and cycle” for your irrigation system. Doing that will give your lawn and beds a good, deep drink of water and reduce runoff. Soak and cycle greatly reduces the problem with trying to water deeply and seeing it run down the curb into the gutter.

Next, let us review some of the rules and regulations regarding home irrigation systems and what you are allowed to do. Texas law states that anyone can set up an above ground drip irrigation system from some simple products available at local nurseries. These drip hoses are quite simple for a do-it-yourself homeowner. Even for those who feel challenged with home improvement products, drip irrigation kits have a “plug and play” setup that anyone could tackle.

There are, however, some serious laws regarding who can install and repair underground irrigation systems. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is Texas’ version of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at the national level. Under their jurisdiction, you must be licensed to install almost any irrigation system.

Now, I’m not an attorney and I don’t play one on television, so please don’t take the following as all you ever need to know regarding landscape irrigation law.

According to Texas Administrative Code, Chapter 30, “A person may not sell, design, install, maintain, alter, repair, service or inspect an irrigation system – or consult in these activities- in this state, unless the person is licensed by the TCEQ.” As with some laws there is a couple of exemptions, and one exemption is that you can if you are a gardener or agriculturalist working on you own property.

But we have to take it one step further. Some municipalities (Lufkin being one of them) say that even though you may be exempt by the state, you are required to apply for a permit (just like a building permit) and hire a licensed technician to inspect it IF a portion of it is underground.

Why all the rules to water you yard, you ask? At issue is the safety of the public water supply. If you put together a pressurized irrigation system incorrectly and some of the water in your system gets back into the city water supply, it is possible to contaminate city water.

Water law is interesting. In general, water laws (who owns it and who can gather it) are set and governed by states, as opposed to the federal government. Texas residents enjoy a good amount of freedom regarding water rights. You are allowed by Texas law to harvest rainwater. In fact, the practice is harvesting rainwater to use in the landscape is even encouraged by our state with tax credits and tax exemptions at certain times.

On the contrary, my understanding is that Colorado residents are generally not allowed to harvest rainwater that drips off of the roof as it has “the potential to withhold water from users that have senior water rights” under Colorado law.

Many years ago, the Lufkin Daily News wrote an editorial entitled something like “Lufkin’s Water Problem”. The tongue in cheek title of the editorial was that that Lufkin residents are so blessed by normally abundant rainfall and exceptional planning by city leaders regarding abundant supplies of municipal water supplies that they didn’t realize that there was a shortage of water across the state during a terrible drought.

Our state representatives have dealt with the wondering eyes from other parts of our state and how they would love to take a part of the water resources we so enjoy.

Indeed, we are typically blessed with more than adequate rainfall and have high quality water for city residents. We can and do have incredible landscapes because of our abundance of water.

Nevertheless, in times like these, let us all remember to use this resource wisely. Water is limited. I suppose we could approach this from another way- – keep you water bills low and save yourself some money. Even during summer droughts like we are currently experiencing, we typically do see a spike in water usage in the landscape. Yet with wise planning, you can save money by implementing water conservation measures.


Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu.

Educational programs of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, national origin, genetic information or veteran status. The Texas A&M University System, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the County Commissioners Courts of Texas Cooperating.

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