4 Reasons to have a “Water” Element in your Comprehensive Plan.

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

Water should be a central focus of your Comprehensive Plan because planning and water are inextricably tied together. If your community includes “Water” as an element of its comprehensive plan water managers, planners, elected officials, industries, the public, and other stakeholders will recognize that they have more in common than they think. Here are 4 reasons to include a “Water Element” in your Comprehensive Plan.

Rivers Alive! is one of the biggest volunteer events in Athens, GA. Love of the rivers unites people from different walks of life.

1)  Water Unites Us All

Water is essential to everything in your community. It provides public health protection, fire protection, support for the economy, and quality of life. Without enough clean water, all of the other elements of your plan would be irrelevant.  The economic value of water is elusive, but we know that without adequate clean water there would be no economic development.

2) Water Needs Planning and Planning Needs Water

The essential components of any Comprehensive Plan are inextricably tied to water. Water affects landuse and landuse affects water. Many communities are trying to implement best practices such as compact, sustainable development to improve transportation choices and air quality.  These practices also support good water stewardship. For example, water savings can be realized if new urban and suburban developments incorporate mixed uses and higher densities. A Water Element in a Comprehensive Plan will support things that planners have been trying to implement for other reasons and can sometimes be difficult to implement.


People discuss their vision for their City at a Comprehensive Plan workshop in Winterville, Georgia.

3) Comp Plan Workshops are Friendly!

Public meetings about water management are often adversarial as stakeholders compete for the resource.  Discussions at Comprehensive Plan workshops are typically more cooperative and collaborative as participants create a vision for their community.  Comprehensive Plan workshops provide an opportunity for meaningful dialogue about water resources and can raise awareness of the nexus between water and human activity. Identifying the link between water and everything else in the Plan is important to developing support for planning best practices and costly, but desperately needed, water-related infrastructure improvements.

4) Drought Resiliency

What does planning have to do with drought?  Planning cannot influence rainfall, but it can influence consumption patterns, both over the long term and during drought.  Urban form, building codes, and landscaping choices influence water consumption. For example, large lots tend to encourage summertime lawn watering. More compact residential development reduces water use for lawns. A study in Portland estimated that a 25 percent reduction in the average building size for new single-family residential development in the study region is associated with a 6.6 MG reduction in water consumption per year.  In short, you need a “Water” element in your Comprehensive Plan to ensure that the other elements consider availability of water supply in goal setting and strategy development.  The “Water” element should answer the question, “What will you do during the next big drought?”

Luna Leopold wrote that “Water is the most critical resource issue of our lifetime and our children’s lifetime. The health of our waters is the principal measure of how we live on the land.” That means that water can be used as a gauge for how we are doing. Lets acknowledge the value of water by making it a central focus of our Comprehensive Plans!

Ebola Information Released for Water and Wastewater Utilities | TPO – Treatment Plant Operator Magazine

This week’s blog is by Laurie Loftin, with a link to an article from the Treatment Plant Operator (TPO) Magazine published October 9, 2014.

Ebola.  The word has the power to strike fear in most people’s minds.  I experienced this firsthand on a recent trip to Las Vegas.  I gathered with other water professionals for a tour of the Venetian hotel’s extraordinary sustainability practices.  Almost at once, phones began to chirp with tweets and texts.  A plane was on lock down at the Las Vegas McCarran airport.  Reports stated a passenger on board had symptoms of Ebola.  Several in our tour group were scheduled to fly out of McCarran in a few hours.  The tour stopped as people discussed what this might mean to them. Could they fly back to their loved ones?  Would there be any risk of infection at the airport?  Fortunately, it was later determined the passenger did not meet the criteria for Ebola, but the fear of Ebola is contagious and it traveled home.

According to the CDC, Ebola spreads through direct contact with the blood or body fluids, including urine and feceebolas, of an infected person.  I indirectly work with wastewater.  I know wonderful, dedicated, and passionate people who work directly with wastewater.  Is there any risk to these unsung heroes?

TPO Magazine,  a publication dedicated to wastewater and water treatment professionals, recently addressed these concerns in a publication summarizing findings from the Water Research Foundation.  Per their request, I include and encourage you to click-through to their article find up to date research associated with the risks of Ebola for wastewater professionals:

Ebola Information Released for Water and Wastewater Utilities | TPO – Treatment Plant Operator Magazine.

Edit:  The CDC states there is no evidence suggesting Ebola spreads through water.  It spreads through direct contact with the bodily fluid.  Information on the CDC website states, “Sanitary sewers may be used for the safe disposal of patient waste. Additionally, sewage handling processes (e.g., anaerobic digestion, composting, and disinfection) in the United States are designed to inactivate infectious agents.”  The CDC recommends wastewater professionals “wear  normal personal protective equipment as provided by their employer.”

If you happen to know or run into a water or wastewater professional, be sure and take a moment to thank him or her for their commitment to protecting the community, the environment, and you.

Laurie Loftin



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. redandblack.com

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: http://www.ted.com/talks/joe_smith_how_to_use_a_paper_towel).  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!