Fun in the Sun… and Water!

This week’s blog post was written by WCO intern Laura Keys.

water trucks (9)

This year’s Water Festival was a wet-and-wild success!

The weather was beautiful, and everyone had headed home long before the monsoon hit Saturday afternoon. For my first time attending the Water Festival, I had some idea of what to expect: a water truck, a band, lots of kids, and even a magician, but I was surprised at just how many fun booths there were to visit! Here are a few of the highlights from the day: KACCB (1)

First, the Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful (KACCB) booth. You had to pick up some trash out of the kiddie pool and sort it based on how long it took the trash to decompose in nature. I think this booth was much more popular than KACCB anticipated, and it might have even recruited some young’uns to help with Rivers Alive! (I mean, who doesn’t love those grabber toys?)

A fun demo in one of the education tents was the “Will It Float?” experiment, where you got to compare how various objects float or sink when placed in fresh water vs. salt water. There was an egg, a golf ball, a penny, a mardi gras necklace, and a few other items to compare, and I was surprised to see the egg and golf ball float in the salt water! UGA Marine Sciences (5)

A favorite place for kids to spend time was the UGA Marine Extension booth, which had an immense collection of freshwater and marine animals, snail races, and crafts (plus several dozen kids at any given moment). This group’s preparation and sheer volume of cool things to see was awe-inspiring; they were great representatives for the Georgia coast!

Other activities include the fly fishing casting booth, the Water Cycle-themed javelin toss, and the petting zoo, though I really don’t have room here to list everything that was fun at the festival.

Several hundreds of Athenians joined us throughout the day, and I think they’ll all agree that the Water Festival is a fun, unique way to spend time with friends and family in the lovely Sandy Creek Park.

Javelin Toss (9)

“Y’all come back now, ya hear?”

The Water Wise ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

This week’s blog was written by Laurie Loftin after she dried off and warmed up.

The latest craze to flow over the internet is the ALS ice bucket challenge.  People are challenged to either donate $100 to ALS research or dump a bucket of ice water over their head.  Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.  With donations to ALS research reaching almost $80 million since the challenge went viral, it seems many are taking on both the ice bath and parting with their cold, hard cash.

Lily Anne Phibian was slow to hop on this trend.  As a water conservation ambassador, she hesitated to show a wasteful use of water.  But being a big-hearted frog, she also wanted to do what she could to help raise awareness of ALS.  With careful thought, Lily Anne came up with a toad-ally awesome way to reduce and reuse the water needed to successfully take on the ice bucket challenge.  See if you can spot all the ways Lily Anne supports a good cause while using water wisely in this video.

Did you discover how you can care for water while getting all wet?

  1. Lily Anne took the challenge standing over grass and soil.  This allowed any water splashes to benefit the turf beneath her.
  2. She stood in a large tub to catch as much spilling water as possible.
  3. The water caught in the tub is reused to douse three more people.
  4. The remaining water captured in the tub is poured over some very thirsty lantana, a beautiful flowering plant that grows well in our hot and dry climate.

We challenge you to devise even more creative ways to take on the ice bucket challenge while caring for our water resources.  Share them with us!  Conserve: WATER U waiting 4?

Special Note:  Donations were made to both ALS and the Upper Oconee Watershed Network, a local organization dedicated to protecting the water resources the people of Athens-Clarke County depend on.

No animals or zombies were harmed in the making of this video.

Pledge Week

This week’s blog post was written by WCO intern Laura Keys.

Well, it’s that time of year again: the Back-to-School Rush, when students swarm back to Athens by the truckload. Incidentally, it’s also Panhellenic Rush time. Never having joined a sorority, I’m rather fascinated by some of the things I hear about Greek culture on campus, and Rush Week  is a source of many of these gems. In particular, I was shocked to hear that girls participating in Rush Week events often had to be up and ready before 8am!

“8am doesn’t sound so bad,” you might say. But consider that these ladies must be up and ready and in a state to impress new strangers. Obviously no sweatpants or greasy hair are allowed at these events, and cute shoes are a must. (Duh.) That equates to a wake-up of 6am in order to have time to shower, style their hair, dress up, put on make-up, and be ready and peppy for the day to start. They do this routine multiple days in a row so that they can obtain a coveted invitation to join the sorority of their choice.

It’s already been a long morning for these ladies.

Now, I have a hard enough time just getting myself dressed and fed in the mornings. If I had to do all that prep to make myself look cute and photo-worthy in the morning, I would certainly look for a way to streamline it and give myself a little more time to sleep in.

And then it dawned on me, a simple thing rush-ees could do that would not only save them time but would also save water: don’t take a shower every single morning! After all, the average shower lasts between 5 and 10 minutes; if your hair is wet, you can tack on an additional 20 to 30 minutes of drying, straightening, curling, and styling. By skipping a shower every other morning, these girls could save more than 30 minutes in the morning as well as over 30 gallons of water EACH for each shower skipped.

If you currently shower and wash your hair every day, I challenge you to try taking a day off. If you feel like your hair is just too oily, try a dry shampoo on those off-days. You can purchase one or make a really simple one at home following advice from this blog.

So which group will you be pledging this fall? Alpha phi? Sig ep? Or W C O?

America’s Infrastructure is H2Old

This week’s blog is by Marilyn Hall, Water Conservation Coordinator for Athens-Clarke County, GA

It is no secret.  We had a water main break downtown last week.  Photos and videos were all over social media.  It was a big deal. To see how big of a deal it was I got off social media and googled “water main break Athens” and was amazed at the results.  Of the first 10 websites that popped up:

  • 5 reported on a main break in Athens, Ohio,
  • 3 reported on the College Avenue break here in Athens, Georgia,
  • 1 was about a main break in Oconee County, Georgia. (Our neighbor to the Southwest.), and
  • 1 was from a main break in Atlanta.

Then I googled “water main break” and limited the search to the last month. There were major breaks in Los Angeles, Bay City (MI), Cary (NC), Fort Lee (NJ), South Tampa (FL), Ossining (NY), Phoenix (AZ), Fort Worth (TX), Nashville, Detroit, the list goes on and on!  What is going on here?

It appears as if water main breaks are happening all over the country and are very common.  America’s water infrastructure is all worn out. According to the American Water Works Association:

  • The oldest cast iron pipes laid in the late 1800s usually last 120 years,
  • Pipes laid in 1920s must be replaced after 100 years, and
  • Pipes from the post-World War II boom wear out after 75 years.

The cost to replace America’s old pipes is about $1 trillion over next 30 years!  Since most of our infrastructure was laid before many of us were born, current generations have not had to pay huge amounts for infrastructure investment.  But that is going to have to change.  Here in Athens water rates pay for replacing aging water infrastructure, new water infrastructure to support increasing population, and new water treatment technologies for increased water quality.

We have invested in advanced water treatment technologies at The JG Beacham Drinking Water Treatment Plant and at all three of our Water Reclamation Facilities.  We are systematically replacing our oldest pipes as budget and scheduling allows.  (The College Avenue main was scheduled for replacement in January, after football season.  Imagine if it had broken on gameday!)  Every day I hear about “America’s Crumbling Infrastructure” and it is almost always about roads and bridges. Water infrastructure is hidden, “out of sight, out of mind”.  It is time everyone starts thinking about all those pipes that are underground and delivering life-giving water to our homes and businesses.  America must invest in replacement and maintenance of its water infrastructure.  The problem is not going away.

How to Use a Paper Towel

This week’s blog post is from WCO Graduate Assistant Lily Cason.

What is the first thing you do every morning? The last thing you do at night?

I’m willing to bet it is usually the same (and probably involves water).

When I wake up I get right to my morning routine: go to the bathroom, wash my face, brush my teeth. In that order. I do the same thing every day without thinking about it because it is a habit—a behavior so engrained that I don’t have to think much while I am doing it.  Research shows that repeated behaviors can become habits—meaning we use a different part of our brain to perform those tasks and therefore use less brainpower to complete them. A cue (such as waking up) tells your brain what habit to perform, you enact that routine (ex. brushing my teeth, etc.), and then your brain gives you a sense of reward (ex. feeling fresh and awake).  Once you establish a habit it is difficult to change.  But once we are aware of our habits we can try to improve them by creating new habits.

After reading a little about the science of habit change I started to wonder about my own daily routines: are there things I am doing unconsciously that I could change for the better?

Then I watched a Ted Talk by Joe Smith on “How to Use a Paper Towel” and something clicked.  It made me think about my hand washing habits in public restrooms (something I had honestly never given any conscious thought to before).  Usually I wet my hands, soap them, scrub a bit, rinse off, grab a few paper towels to dry off and I’m out the door.



But according to Joe Smith you only need ONE paper towel, regardless of what kind it is (see his Ted Talk here:  When I first watched his video I realized that it had never occurred to me how many paper towels I was using that I didn’t need (despite having seen those “These come from trees” stickers plastered on the paper towel dispensers).  The production of paper towels requires water (as does the production of most things) so by using less of one resource we conserve water as well.

After watching Joe Smith’s video I became aware of my bad habit and that gave me a way to change. The cue is the same (my hands are wet) and the reward is the same (my hands will be dry and clean). The only thing that changed is the routine in the middle.

How does he get dry hands with only one paper towel you are wondering?  He adds in two simple steps: shaking your hands twelve times (or so) to get the excess water off, much like a dog does after getting a bath and then folding the paper towel in half before using it.  Now when I wash my hands I challenge myself to use as few paper towels as I can (aiming for only one but sometimes needing another).

Becoming more aware of my own resource use and my engrained habits is making it easier to align my knowledge and beliefs – and conserve water by something as simple as using fewer paper towels. Like trying to eat healthier or quit smoking, the hard part of changing is finding a good habit to replace the bad habit.

Now you’ll know what I’m doing if you see me in public somewhere shaking my hands like crazy!

Outdoor Water Conservation in Athens

This week’s blog post is from WCO Intern Laura Keys.

Quick! Think of 3 ways you can conserve water at home!

… Are you thinking about shorter showers? Turning off the water when you brush your teeth? Running dishwashers and washing machines with full loads? Fixing leaky faucets? All of these are excellent practices that will help you reduce the amount of water you use at home. But did you think about anything on the outside of your house?

The actual sprinkler at fault wasn’t quite as cute as this Toys ‘R’ Us yard snake.

More than half of residential water use is estimated to go towards outdoor use — for watering plants, washing cars, power-washing houses, playing in sprinklers, and so on. And even more so in the summer when we’re all feeling motivated to be outside (but still want to stay cool).

I thought that surely people have moved past the whole “watering the street with their sprinklers” thing, but on a walk through 5 Points, I was reminded that this scenario still happens: in front of some new construction with brand-new bermuda grass, there was a lone sprinkler merrily watering the grass, sidewalk, and street during the heat of the day.

So clearly there are still problems with how water is used in Athens, but there are also a lot of people that do things right! Here are a few concrete things that people in Athens are doing that YOU too can do around your home to conserve water use outdoors.

First off, don’t let all that lovely rainwater that hits your roof go to waste… set up a rain barrel! Rain barrels collect rainwater and store it until you decide to use it. You can water plants with it, wash your car, wash the dog, anything you would normally use the hose to do. The Public Works building downtown has a rain barrel system in place that collects water from the roof and waters a lovely vegetable garden with it.


While you’re harvesting water for your plants, consider how much water your plants will need. Athens isn’t in a state of drought at the moment, but we’re often on the cusp of it. In drought-prone areas, try out some plants that require less water, such as amaranth, okra, succulents, peppers, and many varieties of tomatoes.

yard landscaped with pine mulch (

In addition to your desired plants and grass, use mulch to keep moisture in the soil and to control undesired weeds. If you really want to save on the watering, skip the green lawn and cover your yard area entirely with wood chip or pine mulch.

Finally, be smart about watering and use smart irrigation practices. You don’t need a lot of fancy automatic moisture sensors to figure out when to water! Just use an old-school, manual approach: dig down about 2-3 inches, and shape a handful of soil into a ball. If it keeps its form, there’s enough moisture in the soil already. And when the time inevitably comes to water your plants, do what you can to prevent evaporation. Avoid watering during the hottest parts of the day, and water the plants on the ground near their roots rather than in the air around their leaves.

And above all, remember: people and plants need water, but your driveway doesn’t!

To read more about particular sites in Athens practicing water conservation, check out this older blog post:

Santa Claus is Moving to Town Revisited

In the spirit of the holiday season (decorations are already on sale at your local stores) and recycling, this week’s blog from Laurie Loftin, Program Specialist, is a recycled blog post to celebrate Christmas in July!

superman santa

“Superman’s Father,” by Funkwood. Won 4th place in The Secret Life of Santa 7 photo effects contest at

Look, up in the sky!  It’s a bird.  It’s a plane.  It’s an Amazon drone.  It’s Santa Claus!  Yes, it’s Santa Claus.  A jolly old elf from the North Pole who comes to visit good girls and boys with gift giving abilities far beyond those of mortal men.  Santa Claus, who can slide down the tightest of chimneys, make gazillions of toys with his bare hands, and fights a never-ending battle to promote consumerism, as it is the American way.

This December, remember to take part in another exciting episode in the adventures of Santa Claus.  On Christmas Eve track his flight across the world, thanks to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).  Using radar, satellites, SantaCams, and jet fighters, the NORAD is the envy of the NSA every Christmas, as they keep children everywhere up to date with the surveillance of St. Nick.  The official tracking website, which is currently offering to send birthday greetings from Santa so he can make it through the off season, allows your little ones to see how far the sleigh is from their home, play holiday games, and listen to well-loved Christmas carols.

Now to tie this blog to water.  Santa Claus’ legendary workshop is located in the North Pole.  I admit I only think of the North Pole in December and when recycling this blog.  The location brings to mind images of snowy white landscapes and mountains of ice.  This past winter I was curious as to what the North Pole looks like during the other seasons of the year.


Yes, Virginia, these trees don’t grow at the North Pole.

Much to my dismay, I once again confirmed to myself how completely misinformed I am about most topics.  Relying only on the teachings of claymation classics such as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “The Year Without Santa Claus,” I incorrectly believed Santa’s workshop in the North Pole to be a fixed location on snow-covered land.  I have since learned a few things as shocking as if someone told me Santa isn’t real.

First, there are two North Poles.  One is the North “Magnetic” Pole, the other is the geographic location.  No wonder no one has been able to find Santa’s legendary workshop!  Which area should one search?  To further add to the confusion, the  North Magnetic Pole is constantly moving – about 35 miles a year – due to magnetic changes in the Earth’s core.  Can you imagine the headache this must cause Santa?  He could leave to deliver presents and, because of the different time-space continuum he exists in, return to his workshop only to discover the whole setup has moved somewhere else!

The other thing I learned is the North Pole, be it the North Magnetic Pole or the Geographic North Pole, is not made up of any land mass.  It is made mostly out of shifting sea ice, aka frozen water.  Santa’s magical workshop sits on top of solid WATER!  Without water the North Pole of claymation and Santa’s workshop would not exist.  I knew water was important, but I didn’t realize the legend of Santa Claus depends on this natural resource for his survival.

north pole

Images of North Pole at different times of the year.

Last summer images from near the Geographic North Pole caused a bit of controversy.  The headline grabbing news shouted the North Pole is melting!  Climate change believers and non-believers sought to disprove each other.  But neither group could deny the image of a lake in the North Pole.  Ice was melting.  Apparently this is not out of the ordinary.  Axel Schweiger, who heads the Applied Physics Laboratory’s Polar Science Center, and other researchers explained in Science Daily that it is not unusual to find a melt pond on an ice floe during summer months.  I guess Santa Claus is use to the possibility of the ice below his workshop melting come mid-July?

I encourage you to use the NORAD Santa tracker every year to locate the North Pole and follow Mr. Claus on his epic journey.  I also suggest NORAD keep the tracker up and running after Christmas.  With the geographical headaches Santa must encounter every year, I wouldn’t be surprised if the jolly old elf soon decides to change his zip code.  Perhaps  he could move closer to China or Thailand.  The tracker could alert us to when and where Santa relocates, making it easier to prove his existence.   And maybe we could finally get a new, exciting, claymation adventure entitled “Santa Claus is Movin’ to Town”.

Merry Christmas in July to All – enjoy the gift of water.