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Posts Tagged ‘leak repair’

by Charlene Burgi

It seems that the phrase “March Madness” is heard throughout the mass media but never in regard to gardening!

To me, March Madness in the garden represents the desire to do something that isn’t quite right just for the sake of getting it done. It is the madness of taking shortcuts that lead to potential long-run problems.

These shortcuts find their way into the scheme of things primarily during the month of March, since this is the month many of us tend to emerge from hibernation. For instance, earlier this month I was going through the stacks of seeds collected over the years. I noticed one seed packet dated back to 2007. (If anyone hosts a show called “Seed Hoarders,” I would be a great candidate.) I had an empty seed flat and thought I had nothing to lose but to scatter the seeds in the planting mix. I didn’t label the flat thinking the seeds were too old to germinate. Was I wrong! I have a bumper crop of something coming up but now fail to remember what I planted! These little mystery plants will keep me guessing for some time; I don‘t know if they are shade- or sun-lovers, vegetable or flower, or even what hydrozone to plant them in. What I do know is this plant has a very long shelf life and I need to make labels instead of trusting my memory!

Fix a Leak Week

What better time to check for irrigation and other leaks?

Shortcuts also cost more money and time than if the job is done correctly in the first place. And truthfully, some garden chores are far more exciting than others. Those dreaded chores often result in neglect. One area frequently overlooked is our irrigation systems. Before we do anything, we need to turn on the irrigation system to check for leaks, breaks, popped emitters, misdirected nozzles, etc. (National Fix-a-Leak Week is a good time to do this.) Our instinct is to think it worked fine last year. We convince ourselves it is okay to postpone that check until after we plant, yet this key step is often forgotten. Uninspected irrigation components lose water to sidewalks, streets, or the neighbor’s yard. Water may pool around the base of the spray head due to bad seals around the sprinkler. Controllers may have lost connection with the valves and fail to turn on the system. Worse yet, drip systems could resemble fountains in Rome as the water arches far above the intended planting area. This aquatic event is missed entirely as we program the irrigation system to go on while we are still slumbering peacefully.

There is another irrigation shortcut that can cause trouble. A plant is innocently added on to an existing hydrozone station. The hydraulics to this station could already be straining to give ample coverage to the existing plantings, but why not just add on one more head to water this new plant along with the others? After all, the plants have the same exposure and water needs. But is there enough water available on that station? A well-designed irrigation system considers the friction loss of water in the pipe, the water pressure available, and the gallons of water required to water the area. The person designing the system researches the number and type of sprinklers best suited for that station. One sprinkler added after-the-fact to that design could leave the coverage lacking. A few hot days this summer will reveal the deadly results of a moment’s madness in March.

During an irrigation system check, one can experience another moment of madness when discovering a missing sprinkler head. The tendency is to grab whatever nozzle might be available. The outcome is seen when a sprinkler nozzle should reach six feet for head-to-head coverage, yet someone uses a spray head that reaches 15 feet. Your neighbor may thank you for watering his plants if the nozzle isn’t corrected! Or, the only sprinkler type available at the moment might be an impact head added to a system using spray heads or rotors. Taking this shortcut—instead of taking the time to run down to the local irrigation supply house—can end up flooding one area of your garden while leaving the other area parched. The golden rule here is do not mix and match your irrigation types on one station. Use the same type of nozzles throughout the system. Even spray heads from different companies will not match as they can emit various gallons per minute.

Yes, March Madness here in Lassen comes with the desire to plant my vegetable garden when the temperatures are still dropping into the teens at night. Enjoy the long growing season in Marin—just be wary of the shortcuts.

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Fix a Leak Weekby Shasta Phillips

Household leaks can waste more than 1 trillion gallons annually nationwide. That’s enough water to fill 100 million swimming pools. It’s enough to submerge Marin County under 6 feet of water. It is enough water to give 100 billion poodles a much-needed bath. The point is, it is a lot of water.

I know what you’re thinking: “Enough with the fancy statistics, Shasta. Tell me what I can do to help stop leaks!” Well, MMWD has provided a handy Do-It-Yourself Survey to help you find leaks on your property. Following the simple step-by-step instructions in the guide may help you discover leaks that are wasting not only our precious resource, but also your hard-earned dollars.

“Do-it-yourself? No thanks!” Okay, okay. For those of you who would like help, invite one of our well-mannered conservation experts to your property to help check for leaks and identify other ways to reduce your water use. Learn more on our website, then call 415-945-1523 to schedule your free appointment.

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Saving water is always important but especially during a drought like we’re having right now. There are lots of things you can do at home and at school to save water. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Be a leak detective: Check faucets and showers for drips—one drip per second adds up to eight gallons of water every day. Remember to check outdoor faucets and hoses, too.
  • A leaky toilet can waste up to 200 gallons a day! Ask your parents to help you test your toilets for leaks by placing a few drops of food coloring or a dye tablet in the tank and waiting about 15 minutes. If the color shows up in the toilet bowl without flushing, you have a leak that needs to be repaired.
  • Don’t use your toilet as a waste basket. Put facial tissues in the trash. Don’t flush spiders and other creepy-crawlies—capture them in a cup and put them outside.
  • Turn off the tap while you brush—you'll save about eight gallons every day!

    Turn off the tap while you brush—you’ll save about eight gallons every day!

    Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth or lathering your hands. This is an easy way to save eight gallons or more every day.

  • Take showers instead of baths. Try timing your shower, then challenge yourself to shorten your shower by two minutes. You’ll save about five gallons!
  • Try this experiment to see how water-efficient your showerhead is. If you discover that you need a new showerhead, MMWD has free replacements available.
  • Put a bucket in the shower while you’re waiting for the water to warm up. Use the water you collect to flush the toilet by pouring the bucket into the toilet bowl. Or, use this water to help your parents water thirsty house or garden plants.
  • Designate a drinking glass for each member of the family and reuse your glass throughout the day. You’ll cut down on the number of glasses that need washing.
  • If washing dishes is one of your chores, don’t rinse dishes under a running tap. Instead, fill a pan with water. Better yet, just scrape the dishes into the trash or compost and put them in the dishwasher. Remember to run the dishwasher only when full.
  • If your clothes aren’t very dirty, re-wear them before tossing them in the laundry hamper.
  • Wash your pet outside in an area of the yard that needs watering.
  • Remind your friends, classmates, and parents to conserve water, too!

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by Christina Mountanos

It’s both remarkable and worrisome that the local forecast is still filled to the brim with sunshine. With 2013 earning the title of driest year in MMWD’s recorded history, and no end in sight, everyone I know is at least a little on-edge. Veterans of the 1976-77 drought have been busy tightening their belts, and our phones have been abuzz with customers expressing their concerns. One thing’s for sure, the time for everyone to do their part is now! Where can you begin? If you’re on a limited budget, a new homeowner, or just don’t know where to start, the following list can help! Check out some of the most popular, and effective, ways to save:

1. Check for leaks and repair them immediately. One in three of our customers have leaks and don’t even realize it. Don’t become part of the statistic! Check your home for leaky toilets and dripping fixtures. Many repairs are simple, inexpensive, and can reduce your indoor water usage by nearly 15 percent. Need some guidance? Read our fun, informative instructions on “How to Be a Leak Detective” to get started.

2. Turn off your automatic sprinkler system and water plants only as needed. Switching your irrigation timer to the “off” position is an easy, no-cost way to save water. Rest assured that despite the dry weather conditions, plants need about 80 percent less water this time of year than they do in the summer months. Keep an eye on your garden and only water periodically, if plants are showing signs of stress. Once spring rolls around, let us help you decide when it’s right to turn things back on. Sign up for our online Weekly Watering Schedule and receive weekly e-mails with guidelines on how much to water.

3. Check your water pressure and install pressure-compensating faucet aerators and showerheads. High water pressure in your home can cause faucets and showerheads to use more water, so it’s important to know what you have. Sixty pounds per square inches is just right for most homes, but check with a plumber to be sure. Also consider installing pressure-compensating showerheads and faucet aerators. Installing a two-gallon-per-minute showerhead can save up to 2,900 gallons annually. Putting in new aerators on your bathroom and kitchen faucets can save 700 gallons more.

4. Check your water meter. Take charge of your water usage by learning to read your meter and doing some simple math. It’s just as easy as reading the odometer in your car and only takes a few minutes. Taking weekly readings will help you spot any unusual usage, catch leaks, and avoid surprises on your bill. Use the handy form we have available online to record your readings or download a smart-phone application to store it for you!

5. Participate in MMWD’s free conservation programs. Very few things in this world are free. Fortunately, one thing you can still get is a water use survey with one of our conservation specialists. Let us help you identify ways to save water in your home (indoors and out) and provide you with complimentary showerheads and aerators (as needed, of course). Call our Conservation Assistance Program hotline at (415) 945-1523 to set up an appointment.

6. Install high-efficiency WaterSense-labeled toilets. Toilets are responsible for nearly 30 percent of our indoor water usage. That’s why, time-and-time-again, replacing old, inefficient models tops the list of ways to save. Purchase a new high-efficiency toilet (HET) and save 20-60 percent per flush, for a significant reduction of 13,000 gallons annually. Consider dual-flush to further your savings, check map-testing.com to get your hands on cold, hard facts about performance, and go to our website for rebate information on qualifying models so you can get paid to save! Toilets save water year-round, and you’ll find them in price ranges made for everyone.

7. Install a high-efficiency clothes washer. Second only to toilets are the workhorses we call clothes washers. You can put your old 30-40 gallon clunker to shame by purchasing a new high-efficiency model that uses 18 gallons or less. Take advantage of our current rebate program to save water, energy, and money.

8. Install a WaterSense-labeled smart irrigation controller. Purchase a new “smart” controller and never forget to reduce your watering schedule again! The EPA estimates these controllers—which take their cues from real-time weather conditions—can save the average family 8,800 gallons annually. Schedule a pre-inspection with one of our conservation specialists, then take advantage of MMWD’s rebate for $20 per active station. Smart controllers are made by a variety of manufacturers and, like toilets, are available in a range of prices.

9. Add compost and mulch. Amend, amend, amend your soil. Gets your hands on some organic compost, or make your own! The benefits are overwhelming. Feeding your soil with compost nourishes plants, helps with aeration, resolves compaction issues, prevents runoff, and helps retain moisture. Since plants residing in amended soils fare better in drought conditions, twice a year spread two to four inches of compost over the top or your soil, then dig it into the top six to 12 inches. Follow-up with two to four inches of mulch and get ready to help make whatever moisture we receive this rainy season last!

10. Make your garden water-smart. Upgrade your irrigation system by converting some of your spray systems to drip irrigation. Or, improve the efficiency of your current sprinklers by changing them to high-efficiency rotor-type nozzles. Rotors can fit into existing spray bodies and use one-third less water. By putting out water in small, finger-like streams, they water slowly, more evenly, and reduce water loss due to evaporation and runoff. While you’re at it, consider removing some of your turf grass. A small-sized area of turf, with a spray system operating at ten gallons per minute, can easily use 100 gallons per day, 300 per week, and 15,600 annually! Replacing your lawn with native, low-water use plants is a great way to conserve water and save money. Check out the links on our “Water-Wise Plants” page to find some gorgeous inspirations.

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by Charlene Burgi

The saying “Timing is everything” couldn’t hold truer than at this moment regarding water conservation. Incoming news from Marin is giving us time to plan.

A few days before Christmas an email came to my inbox stating that the MMWD Board of Directors passed a resolution calling on customers to conserve water due to the record-breaking low rainfall we have experienced in the past year.

To further drive this point home, Wendy, a dear friend from the Water Conservation Department, shared Christmas with us. Upon her arrival, she showed us the Marin IJ, which carried a front page story about the extremely dry conditions.

The article reported statistics that shocked me. I read that less than 11 inches of rain fell in Marin in 2013. That is eight fewer inches than the recorded low from 1929—less on a calendar year basis than the debilitating drought we remember so well in the ‘70s!

This news gave me pause for thought. We have time to cinch our belts now and check our conservation practices at home as well as at work. Good times often make us more lax in our practices and habits—conserving water is no exception! Perhaps it is time to reassess our daily routine.

There is time right now to check for dripping faucets that may have been placed on a back burner. Repair them with proper washers or replace the culprit if it is beyond repair. Did a water survey reveal a leaking toilet that needs a flapper replacement? Did that chore get put off until the proverbial tomorrow? Has the irrigation controller been upgraded to a smart controller, or is it still programmed by the “by guess, by golly” method? Is the soil amended so irrigation water soaks into the root zone, or does the heavy clay cause the water to run off? Are the planting beds heavily mulched to inhibit evaporation? Drip systems need to be checked for missing emitters, spray heads require visual analysis to determine if the spray is targeting the intended area and didn’t vibrate into the street or sidewalk.

Smart irrigation controllers

MMWD is offering rebates on smart irrigation controllers and more. Visit marinwater.org/rebates for details. (Photo by Richard Wheeler)

The water district can help you with your conservation efforts in several ways. If you have never had a water survey, call to have one of MMWD’s specialists visit your home, check for leaks and offer suggestions for how to conserve. While there, the specialist can talk to you about rebate programs that could save you money toward the purchase of a new high-efficiency toilet (or two), washing machine and smart controller.

Timing is everything. The water we save right now means that much more water in our reservoirs for that much longer. New ideas, new habits and renewed practices put into action now also will give time for a seamless transition if the dry weather persists and we must move from voluntary to mandatory use reduction.

And what better time to start or renew good practices! We are always thinking about New Year’s resolutions. Let conservation be at the top of your list.

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by Dan Carney

Water has a knack for quietly leaking 24-hours-a-day out of even the smallest cracks and crevices. In fact, it’s so good at finding ways to hide that one-third of all properties in Marin have water leaks. MMWD staff perform thousands of free Conservation Assistance Program (CAP) surveys at homes and businesses every year and discover leaking toilets, sprinkler lines and valves that sometimes account for 25 percent or more of the water used at the site—that’s a lot of wasted water and money!

MMWD Rebates: Get Paid to SaveIf you think it’s time for a free CAP survey to check for leaks, give us a call on the CAP hotline at 945-1523 and we’ll be glad to set up an appointment and meet with you at your property. As an extra bonus, MMWD has rebate dollars available for customers to replace leaky old toilets, water-guzzling clothes washers and out-of-control irrigation controllers. Visit the rebate website at marinwater.org/rebates or give conservation staff a call at 945-1527. Rebate dollars are limited, so get yours today!

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Meet MMWD utility crew

Service crew repairing a main break (Photo courtesy of Wendy Menara)

With 900-plus miles of underground pipeline in our system, breaks and leaks will happen. When they do, it’s up to our service crews to make repairs and get the water flowing again promptly.

MMWD has four service crews, each with four crew members: two utility workers or laborers, a heavy equipment operator, and a crew leader who oversees the job while also working right alongside the team. For a typical main break, one service crew can make the repair in three to six hours. For larger, more complicated breaks, crews work together to get the job done. There is always a crew on call—24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week—to respond to emergencies.

For our service crews, every work day is different, depending on what needs arise. On a “normal” day, crews are busy putting in new service connections, installing firelines and hydrants, and making scheduled repairs. But if an emergency call comes in, regular duties are set aside. A main break can mean working all night in the cold or rain to get the water turned back on for our customers.

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by Charlene Burgi

It’s National Fix a Leak Week—a week when we’re reminded to check our plumbing fixtures and irrigation systems and make any needed repairs to stop water waste.

Ironically, while visiting my granddaughter and a few out-of-town friends this morning, life presented a near water disaster that tied right into the “fix-a-leak” theme. The morning bustle found early risers lining up for showers and completing daily scrubs before granddaughter Kate rose and prepared for work. Within minutes of entering the bathroom she re-emerged in a state of shock wondering who last showered! It seems that she turned her back on the shower enclosure while waiting for the water to get hot enough to enter. Much to her surprise, water spurted up and over the top of the shower enclosure not only drenching her but creating rivulets on the tile floor before she could react to “stop the leak.”

Leaking showerhead

Leaking showerhead

We laughed at her detailed account of the situation, and then investigated why we all managed to fulfill our bathing ritual keeping the water within its intended confines. The story unfolded as we surrounded the shower stall and tried to replicate the drenching. It seems that the last person in the shower had adjusted the shower nozzle when leaving, angling it into a position that dispensed an unwelcome stream of water. Water was pouring out the top of the showerhead before ever reaching the spray portion of the head. One could only guess how long the showerhead had been losing effective shower water!

Leaks are deadly to your water bill. Silent leaks are the worst, as they come packaged in many forms and can catch you unaware. A toilet that flushes without anyone in the room is not the work of a friendly water-waste ghost, but a silent leak that lowers the tank water to a level that causes the toilet to refill even when no one is using it. Sometimes a leaking toilet can only be found by adding food color to the tank, then checking back after 15 minutes to see if the color has seeped into the bowl.

Irrigation leak

Leaking sprinkler head

Water manages to find the easiest exit out of a pipe. While performing water leak investigations, MMWD’s Conservation staff often discover broken pipes silently leaking below ground. They also commonly find leaky seals around sprinkler heads throwing irrigation water out of the pipe before it ever reaches the nozzle— much like the showerhead misfortune Kate experienced this morning.

Water loss also can rear its ugly head when water pressure exceeds an irrigation system’s intended use. High water pressure may not show up as a leak by the conventional definition, but rather as misting into the atmosphere. This is as much a water-waster as a dripping faucet. Drip emitters can also pop off of a drip line when pressure exceeds the recommended amount of water flowing through the drip tube. The installation of a pressure regulator will correct these problems.

This week, check your water meter. Turn off all the water in the house and yard, then carefully remove the lid of the meter box with a screwdriver. Lift the meter cover and check that all the dials and triangle are not moving. If you see movement, you have a leak to find and repair. This is the week to investigate! While you’re at your meter box, snap a picture of your water meter for a chance to win a water-efficiency prize package through the Sonoma-Marin Saving Water Partnership’s “Fix a Leak Week” photo contest.

Remember, if you have water, you have the potential to find a leak when you least expect it, and it isn’t always found by an annoying drip, drip, drip. Just ask Kate!

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by Keith Bancroft

Fix a Leak Week 2013MMWD and water agencies across the country are teaming up with U.S. EPA’s WaterSense program to promote the fifth annual Fix a Leak Week, March 18 – 24, 2013. This is to remind everyone to check their plumbing fixtures and irrigation system for leaks that, collectively, waste more than one trillion gallons of water from U.S. homes every year. That’s equivalent to the annual water use of Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami combined!

The Water Research Foundation conducted a study of the end uses of water in the average home and found that water leaks account for 14 percent of overall indoor water use. What does this mean, exactly? Considering that the study found the largest end uses of water in the average home are the toilet (26 percent), followed by the clothes washer (22 percent) and shower (17 percent), the water lost to leaks (14 percent) is almost equal to the amount used for showering! So, next time you’re taking a shower, imagine that the same volume of water running down the drain is being lost to leaks—every day! And if you’re in the shower, you won’t have to look very far to find the most common source of household leaks: your toilet.

Our Conservation staff has conducted over 3,600 site visits to homes over the past five years, testing over 7,500 toilets for leaks during this time, and found a leak in almost 20 percent of all toilets tested. Yikes! So, there’s good news and bad news here. The bad news is that about 20 percent of toilets in our service area are leaking, and each leak can waste hundreds of gallons per day. The good news is these leaks are often fairly easy and inexpensive to repair.

The Alliance for Water Efficiency’s “Home Water Works” website offers several helpful videos on how to test your toilet for leaks and how to make repairs if you do find a leak.

If you’re thinking of taking it one step further and replacing your old toilet (or faucet or showerhead) with a new high-efficiency WaterSense model, the “Home Water Works” web site also offers several helpful do-it-yourself videos on fixture replacements.

Now that you know where to look, what to look for, and how to stop it from happening, get out there and Fix a Leak!

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by Charlene Burgi

The approach of mid-March, daylight saving time, rising evapotranspiration (ET) rates, and prolonged dry weather are indicators that we are long past due for testing our irrigation systems for leaks, breaks, and clogged heads and emitters before we turn them on for the season.

This spring chore is as necessary for saving water outdoors as is installing a high-efficiency toilet or repairing a leaking faucet indoors. One might argue that the water from a missing drip emitter is still watering the ground; however, the missing emitter is also reducing the water pressure in the line and starving plants “down stream” of their needed water supply. A clogged emitter prevents any water from getting out of the pipe, and a broken pipe is literally water down the drain without any benefit to the garden—but a sure bet of a high water bill.

What amazes most of us is our irrigation systems worked perfectly before we turned them off in the late fall. What creates this added chore in our already busy schedules? And if we do the right thing by checking before turning the irrigation system on, what is the best “down and dirty” way to approach it so we can move on to more exciting things going on in our lives?

First, check the controller for the time and date setting to determine if winter power outages tampered with that detail. A controller will default to watering ten minutes every day on every station. That is a lot of water! Replace any back-up battery if your controller has that feature. Many new controllers have a built-in feature that maintains the settings for a given period of time without a battery back-up. If your controller is malfunctioning, this might be the time to consider upgrading to a smart controller: Once calibrated to your garden, it will free up time now spent monitoring the controller on a weekly basis.

Missing sprinkler nozzle

Missing nozzle

Next, manually turn on each individual station from the controller and walk around that station listening and watching for water hissing or spurting in the air. Exposed broken pipes will sound like an uncontrolled gushing hose. Broken pipes underground may present themselves by puddling or lifting the lawn in a pillow-like fashion. Watch for sprinklers that no longer spray to the adjacent heads on the same station. Lack of water pressure indicates a break in the pipe somewhere. The stations with drip emitters should be producing the same amount of water at the end of the line as at the beginning, closest to the valve. If you are on a sloped area, be certain you have pressure-compensating emitters installed so there is an equal distribution of water despite the elevation variation in your garden.

Emitters that are plugged need to be cleaned out. Replace missing emitters and repair damaged drip tubing so water is not escaping where it isn’t wanted. Remember you are directing water to the root zone of plants to prevent unnecessary weed growth elsewhere. Contact a licensed QWEL landscape contractor if you experience a lack of communication between the controller and the valve that opens the station to be watered. This could indicate a broken wire, malfunctioning solenoid or a problem with the controller. You might want to leave this chore to the pros.

Each station requires this type of scrutiny before you turn on the irrigation system for the season. You won’t regret taking the time for this chore. Fix problems now, and your water bill will reward you for your efforts!

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