Our Everyday Athens Superheroes

The 6th Annual National Infrastructure Week launched into the public sphere on Monday, May 14th, 2018 in an effort to raise awareness and educate the American public about the importance of our nation’s infrastructure. Infrastructure Week recognizes the positive influence that sound infrastructure has on our economy, society, security and future. In Athens, Georgia we celebrate our public workers for their daily commitment to keeping Athens’ infrastructure in running order.

These graphics are just a handful of those created and disseminated by The Steering Committee, which is the backbone of Infrastructure Week.

National Infrastructure Week informs the general public on the need for renewed investment in American infrastructure and spreads the word that now is the #TimeToBuild. The Athens-Clarke County (ACC) Public Utilities Department recently completed a widespread initiative to replace the 100-year-old network of pipes under the Downtown Athens streets. In commemoration of National Infrastructure Week, the ACC Department of Transportation and Public Works, Stormwater Management Program, Streets and Drainage Division, Public Transit Department, Landscape Management Division, and Public Utilities Department spearheaded an effort to visit local schools and educate students about the behind-the-scenes heroes of Athens’ infrastructure. ACC employees rolled up to nine different schools in four fascinating work trucks and two tractors which they allowed students ranging in grades K-5 to tour.

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The rolling truck tours not only enlightened students about the crucial work that goes unnoticed to keep our community running, but encouraged collective support for our public workers as we shift into National Public Works Week which occurs every fourth week of May. This annual awareness campaign takes place from May 20-26. The theme the national campaign this year is “The Power of Public Works,” and is set to highlight the importance and impact of the many facets of public works.

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Some of the students were surprisingly sad upon realizing that the camera car didn’t smell like a “poopy filled pipe.”

The ACC Public Utilities Camera Truck demonstrated how utility workers use technology to perform video inspections on new and existing sewer lines. ACC employees carry out these inspections to ensure the timely repair and maintenance of the hundreds of miles of sewer lines that service Athens-Clarke County.

3Two ACC Transit employees presented to students at J.J. Harris Elementary School about the importance of public transportation during the rolling truck tour. Touring the bus was a hit with the students (and not just because it had air conditioning). Fun fact: Did you know that UGA students and Athens-Clarke County employees can ride any Athens Public Transportation bus for free?

DSC00391Representatives from the ACC Landscape Management Division were also present to talk about their various roles within the community. It’s amazing how attentive a group of 16 kindergartners can be when a tractor is involved, but that attentiveness  quickly turned into a stampede of excitement when the students were given the opportunity to climb inside the tractor.

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The last truck featured on the rolling tour was a vacuum jetter truck. This truck uses the extendable arm you see in the picture to the left to keep storm drains free from debris like litter and yard waste, helping prevent an overflow of rainwater into the street.

As we move from Infrastructure Week into Public Works Week, remember to thank all of those public workers that you pass by! Athens and other communities would cease to function without the dedicated workers who keep our streets and water clean, and ensure that the city is running efficiently. 

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Who Ya Gonna Call?

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Today’s blog was written by Marilyn Hall, Senior Water Resources Planner.

Wh2O Ya Gonna Call?

 

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Real life Proton Pack!

Today I tagged along with the team of scientists working on our Watershed Protection Plan Update.  I was surprised to see how many different kinds of fish live in our urban streams.  We went to Trail and McNutts Creeks and collected fish samples to study.  Don’t worry, the fish were returned to their homes unharmed.

Here is how it works: Backpacks that look just like Ghostbuster Proton Packs send controlled shocks into the water that temporarily stun fish.  This quick time-lapse shows them in action on Trail Creek.  We scoop the fish up in nets, then determine their health, species, and relative population size.  The fish are then returned to the stream unharmed.  The Athens-Clarke County Public Utilities Department does a lot of work monitoring our streams to comply with EPD’s NPDES discharge permit.

 

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This large mouth bass may grow up to be a trophy fish if it has clean water to live in.

Athens’ Watershed Protection Plan (WPP) helps us efficiently implement watershed management programs that maintain or improve the health of our waterways as the community grows.  It was originally implemented in 2011.  In 2012 we started annual reporting, providing details on the implemented recommendations, progress on water quality improvements, and monitoring data.

One of the most important things about the work we do is monitoring changes in the streambank and riparian habitat over time.  This time-lapse shows how it is done.  We measure from the ground up every few inches across the whole stream in the same place year to year.  This helps us determine the impacts of erosion and sedimentation on the stream over the years.

 

Here are some other things the Public Utilities Department does as part of the annual reporting:

  • Wet weather water quality sampling to evaluate nonpoint source runoff. (Wet-weather event sampling occurs immediately after a rain event of >= 0.2 inches.)
  • Dry weather water quality sampling occurs after a dry period of at least 72 hours. We test for a pH, turbidity, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, temperature, and other things.
  • Our Stormwater team in the Transportation and Public Works Department collects samples for bacterial analysis. They test for fecal coliform,
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    This Dobsonfly Larvae we caught in McNutts Creek is a great example of a benthic macroinvertebrate.

    which can get to streams through flaws in our sewer lines, animal waste, failed septic systems and other sources.

  • We do biological monitoring every few years for fish, benthic macroinvertebrates, and for an assessment of physical habitat. The biological sampling helps to evaluate the impact of water quality conditions and land use activities on aquatic biota.  (This is what we did today.)

The Stormwater Division does additional work monitoring and protecting our waterways.  The two departments work together to share data and identify potential water quality problems.

We will post the 2018 WPP on our website when it is complete.

My Favorite Type of Weed

Happy 420! Today is a celebration of my favorite kind of weed. This particular plant is just beautiful. The leaves are a gorgeous green color that spiral high into the sky. Depending on the species, the leaves are long and slender or small and wide. No matter the type, they all have one thing in common… the smell is absolutely intoxicating. I bet if you take a deep breath you could even smell some right now. I’m sure you’ve guessed what I’m talking about by now. My favorite plant is the milkWEED plant.

Female Monarch Butterfly

Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) is very special, as it is the host plant for the iconic monarch butterfly. Host plants provide a site for these butterflies to lay eggs and also act as a food source for the newly hatched caterpillars. The female monarch butterflies are picky. They ONLY lay their eggs on milkweed plants. Monarch caterpillars are just as choosy and ONLY eat milkweed leaves to help them grow and develop. Monarch butterflies cannot and will not exist without milkweed; it’s that simple.

Total Area Occupied by Monarch Butterflies in Mexico

Scientists determine the monarch’s population size by measuring the area of forest land in which they overwinter. Unfortunately, the monarch population has declined severely over the last few decades. Monarch Watch estimates that there are 50 million butterflies per hectare in their overwintering habitats. During the 2017-2018 season, monarchs occupied 2.48 hectares, meaning there were roughly 124 million monarchs. Nearly 20 years ago, in the 1996-1997 season there were 910 million monarchs butterflies. The graph illustrates the population decline. Even today the monarch’s butterflies continue to decrease in numbers. From the 2016-2017 season to the 2017-2018 season, the population experienced a drastic 14.77% decline.

Monarch Migration Map

There are several reasons for the decline, but the largest contributor is a lack of milkweed plants. Every fall, the North American monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains make an incredible journey to overwinter in Mexico. Some fly up to 3,000 miles to complete their journey. Along the way to and from Mexico the monarch must find milkweed to lay her eggs and for the caterpillars to feed. Without the milkweed, we will not have monarchs.

Monarch Caterpillar

There are over 100 species of milkweed plants in the United States. It’s very important to plant native milkweed species. One species of native Georgia milkweed is butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa). It’s a perennial with large clusters of bright yellow-orange flowers that blooms from May to September. It attracts bees, wasps, and of course butterflies. Milkweed plants are drought-tolerant perennials meaning once they establish in your garden, they won’t require much maintenance. Because they are perennials, they will come back year after year.

 

What can you do to help?
The answer is quite simple…plant milkweed. Start a pollinator garden which is designed to include flowers that provide nectar or pollen for a wide range of pollinating insects and birds. Make sure your garden is situated in a sunny spot and includes the following:

  • Native milkweed plants
  • Native pollinator plants that provide nectar for butterflies and bee’s
  • Plants with staggered bloom times so there are blooms for pollinators in the spring, summer, and fall
  • Basking rock so the butterfly can rest in the sun
  • Water source such as a shallow dish filled with water for the butterfly to drink

Similar to milkweed, there are several other low maintenance, drought-tolerant pollinator plants to include in your garden. Examples include in the following.

Aster – bloom in late summer through the fall and provides a nectar source later in the growing season
Bee balm – brightly colored and attracts all types of pollinators (butterflies, bee’s, birds, and insects)
Purple coneflower – provides nectar for pollinators in the summer and then becomes a great seed source for birds
Goldenrod – develops a beautiful gold bloom in the fall and grows best in sunny spots
Joe Pye Weed – reaches up to 7 feet tall and attracts bees and butterflies with its pink blooms
Verbena – low growing ground cover that thrives in high heat with little water.
Parsley – a biennial that blooms during its second year and serves as the host plant for the Black Swallowtail

Need Help?
Now is the perfect time to start a pollinator garden. Monarchs Across Georgia is a great resource for anyone looking to start one. Here you’ll find an online milkweed field guide, sample pollinator garden plants and layout, and a list of nurseries who sell native milkweed plants.

Bee enjoying the blooms in a pollinator garden

If you need some inspiration for your pollinator garden, visit the corner of Washington Street and College Avenue in downtown Athens. As part of their Connect to Protect program, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia at the University of Georgia is working with the Athens Downtown Development Authority to add pollinator plants to downtown street corners.

In addition to providing a vital habitat for monarchs, milkWEED and other native plants naturally require less watering and allow you to conserve water. So go out and plant the best kind of weed today…MILKWEED that is. Happy 420!

Just your luck on Friday the 13th…

Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th is here: a day packed full of superstitions and plain bad luck. But where does the bad luck come from? Is it a case of “What goes around comes around?” If so, there are a few things you can do to lessen the blow of your bad fortune on the infamous Friday that is the 13th.

Stepped in poopFearful of stepping in an odorous brown swirl on the way to an important meeting? Avoid this smelly luck by practicing poop patrol if you have a pet. Poo-llution, or pet waste left in public spaces, is a dirty deed destined for vengeance. Pet waste is a threat to the health and quality of our streams and rivers, but it might also be a threat to your brand new pair of kicks. You just might find yourself tracking dog dooty into the office on Friday the 13th if you don’t clean up your act.

White smartphone mock up sinks in water, 3d rendering

Are you worried about dropping your precious phone in the sink or pool on Friday the 13th? Good conservation karma might relieve you of this misfortune when you need it most. Conserving water everyday is easy — you can still use water for everything you need it for, just use a little bit less for each of your tasks. Take a shorter shower. Practice scrubbing your dishes with a wet sponge before placing them in the dishwasher rather than running the tap when water isn’t needed. Pour your left over bottled water on thirsty plants instead of on the concrete or down the drain. These considerate habits will boost your conservation karma and likely get you through Friday the 13th without sacrificing your smartphone in a pool of paralysis.

No Toilet PaperNobody wants to be the victim of the last sheet on the roll. This bad luck comes to those who don’t “flush with thought.” Our sewer pipes are only built to handle four things – pee, poop, puke, and toilet paper. These products (or should I say byproducts) are called the Four Flushable Ps. Anything flushed in addition to these can cause sewer backups, clogs, and equipment malfunction. If you treat your toilet like a trash can and flush items other than the list of Four Flushable P’s, you might be in for some unlucky mishaps on Friday the 13th. Reverse your bad luck by creating a pact with your potty: “I will only flush the Four Flushable Ps!” If you take care of your toilet, it shall take care of you. There just might be an extra roll of tp behind the toilet if you think like a Sewer Hero and continuously contemplate what not to flush.

Bad luck can be disguised around every corner. We all want to avoid it if we can, especially on Friday the 13th! Step up your A-game this Friday by picking up pet waste, being more water-wise, and thinking like a Sewer Hero. You might have better luck when you take care of the people, places, and things around you!

 

 

How becoming a Water Conservationist has changed the way I consume…

…television and movies.

Before I started my internship here at the Water Conservation Office I experienced a lot less distractions while watching TV. I was unphased by someone leaving the faucet on while brushing their teeth. I didn’t press pause to ask my boyfriend if he also noticed that someone’s sprinklers were running in the middle of the day. But now, I am much more aware.

Here are a few of the moments that have caught my attention:

Home Alone – The Wet Bandits  

Marv Merchants, you need a new “signature”. Maybe leave a card or something? Leaving the house you just burgled with the water running is just plain evil.  

Anytime someone is crying in the shower

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The average American shower runs at a rate of 2 gallons per minute. Instead of feeling for Dr. Yang in this scene, all I could think about was how much water she was using. The Water Conservationist in me was yelling at the TV telling her to turn off the water.

Breaking Bad – That Gross Bathtub Scene We ALL Remember

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If you’ve had the pleasure of watching Breaking Bad, I’m sure you remember which scene I’m talking about. But if you don’t, Jesse doesn’t follow Walter’s instructions and ends up destroying his bathtub with hydrofluoric acid. There’s no evidence of this in the show, but when I watch this scene now I can’t help but wonder if Jesse’s pipes suffered any damage. Did any of that acid make in down the drain? I’m sure this raised the eyebrows of some water professionals in New Mexico.

Those Cheesy Car Wash Scenes

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Now that I know that most new car wash businesses clean and re-use their water, anytime I see a car wash scene I end up looking like thisImage result for facepalm gif

DIY car washes typically use anywhere from 40 to 140 gallons of water. A professional car wash only uses about 9 to 15 gallons of water. Maybe ask a local car washing business to do a percentage night with your organization instead if you need a fundraising idea.

The Dramatic Moment Someone Flushes Pills Down The Toilet

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If I learned one thing during my time at the Water Conservation Office, it was what NOT to flush down the toilet. If it’s not pee, poo, puke, or toilet paper it shouldn’t be flushed. I’ll never be able to watch someone flush pills down the toilet in an overly dramatic moment again without falling to my knees and screaming out! If you need to know how to properly dispose of pills check out this website.

Seinfeld – Kramer’s Black Market Shower Head

Jerry, Newman, and Kramer are all unsatisfied with their new “low-flow” shower heads so Kramer buys one that is used for elephants at the circus. It didn’t go well for him. Thankfully today Kramer can get a WaterSense labeled shower head to solve his problems. WaterSense labeled shower heads are water-efficient and high-performing! And that’s exactly what I told Kramer while I was sitting on my couch watching this episode.

Paddington- A Bear’s First Bathroom

Paddington was such a sweet movie, really touching. But I hope he learned how to use the bathroom without flooding an entire house. Instead of laughing at this bear’s silly mistake, all I could think about was how many loads of laundry he could have done with all that water!

 

Watching TV will never be the same for me and I’m so thankful for it. Now I can be more aware of my own water wasting habits and try to improve them. I’ll cry outside of my shower, use water-efficient shower heads, and I won’t pour hydrofluoric acid in my bathtub in the name of water conservation!

 

This blog was written by Brittni Viskochil, an avid Netflix watcher. 

PUD Study Recommends Eating Less Fiber

North Oconee Water Reclamation Facility

Three water reclamation facilities (WRF) serve as the treatment destinations for the wastewater in Athens-Clarke County (ACC). To extend the life of the facilities, the ACC Water Conservation Office (WCO) asks the community to practice water-efficient behaviors. The less water going down the drain and received at the WRFs, the less wear and tear on the machinery, thus increasing the lifespan of the equipment vital to reclaiming, refreshing, and returning the water to the source.

ACC residents are very aware of and careful with their water consumption. In fact, data shows that the Public Utilities Department (PUD) has reached a plateau in the ability to reduce flow to the WRFs and extend the life of the facilities any further through water conservation alone.

Steps have been taken to identify alternate methods to prevent depreciation of our investment, with one approach standing out as the most cost effective. Though solid human waste, i.e. poop, makes up less than 1% of the components of wastewater, the PUD believes Athens can prolong the life of our facilities by simply reducing the amount of human waste entering the system. For this reason, beginning April 1, 2018, the PUD is encouraging ACC residents to eat less fiber in hopes of adding another five years of life expectancy to our facilities.

According to health and wellness guru Candra Whotin, there are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber mixes with the water in your gut. Foods like oatmeal, nuts, and blueberries are examples of soluble fiber. Much like a “flushable” wipe, insoluble fiber does not break down in water. Whole wheat bread, brown rice, and the skins of fruit contain the insoluble type of fiber. Ms. Whotin recommends a diet high in both types of fiber for maintaining regularity and optimal health.

The PUD boldly contradicts Ms. Whotin by suggesting Athenians limit their fiber intake to lessen the load on our facilities. Having turned to the esteemed Dr. Pick N. Knoughs, an expert in human waste, the PUD learned the average person poops around 410 pounds a year. If you eat a diet with the amount of fiber recommended by health professionals, your poo could tip the scales at 700 pounds a year. Dr. Knoughs calculates this adds 86,359,700 pounds of solid waste to our sewer systems annually.

At this point, the reader may be thinking, “This sounds like a lot of crap,” but the math is accurate. Further evidence that the estimate is true comes from famed documentarian Tarō Gomi, author of the widely popular book entitled, “Everyone Poops”. The title of the book clearly proves Dr. Knoughs knows, and the simple illustrations with bold colors give visual evidence of this natural phenomenon. We know it happens. The PUD asks you to make it happen less.

If you need tips for reducing your fiber intake, look to books with titles such as, “Eat This, Not That”. Here is a simple chart to get you started:

In 2012, two of the Athens WRFs were decommissioned and new ones built and put into operation at the same locations. The third facility received complete and extensive upgrades. Today the facilities have a combined capacity to treat up to 28 million gallons of wastewater a day. Please help us protect these facilities by practicing the proper care and feeding of our sewer systems. It starts with what you feed yourself.

An Athenian in Cape Town

This blog was written by Marilyn Hall who is lucky enough to travel the world with friends.

Last month I traveled to Cape Town, South Africa in search of water conservation ideas……Here are some things I learned.

Cape Town is really far away. We drove an hour to the Atlanta airport, flew 9 hours to Amsterdam, had a two-hour layover, and then flew 11 hours to Cape Town. When we arrived all I wanted to do was splash some water on my face, wash my hands, and brush my teeth. Much to my disappointment, there was no running water at the sinks at the airport!

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Splashing hand sanitizer on your face is not very refreshing.

Cape Town is experiencing an epic drought.  Drought reminders were everywhere, so I decided to take photos to share with the Athens-Clarke County Water Conservation Office. Hands sticky from hand sanitizer, I proceeded to customs and immigration.  These are some of the things I saw.

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We were encouraged to embrace the “If it’s yellow it’s mellow” philosophy at the airport.

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Signs the size of billboards lined the walls at the airport.

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Their water use is “on the line”. Clever outreach idea.

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Save like a local? What does that mean? I was about to find out.

 

Four million people call Cape Town home and they are three years into the region’s worst drought on record.  The reservoirs supplying South Africa’s second most populated city are almost empty.  Residents are limited to 50 liters per day, only 13.2 gallons.  The average American family uses more than 300 gallons every day, and that is just at home!

I also saw several signs promoting investment in Cape Town.  The economic impact of a drought like this must be enormous.  Imagine seeing signs claiming that Cape Town is running out of water next to signs promoting investment there.

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Due to phone battery problems (thanks, Apple), I don’t have any photos of the investment signs at the airport.  But they looked something like this.

What could the impacts be?  I asked my travel companions and they were concerned about public health, civil unrest, and social equity.  One asked what the city would do if there was a fire.  I added that there are economic impacts such as lower rates of investment and job losses.

 

Day zero is the date when officials believe that Cape Town will run out of water. By the end of my trip, the number of days to Day Zero had increased to 136.  The fact that I was there probably had little to do with the improvement, but you never know.

Assuming it rains during their rainy season, political leaders believe that Day Zero will not happen in 2018...  But what if it doesn’t rain?

Years ago water resources planners knew this was coming.   I spoke with a lot of people while I was there.  I asked my Uber drivers, restaurant staff, people working at the hotels, etc.  They all told the same story. It went something like, “The government knew that they were going to run out of water, and ‘they’ were going to fix it.”  Years ago, if they had implemented recommended strategies such as augmenting water supplies with recycled water, they would not be in the position they are now.

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Although water planners knew drought would be a problem, political leaders chose not to invest in infrastructure.

I am not sure what the people in Cape Town are going to do if Day Zero arrives.  One Uber driver told me has never had reliable drinking water and he will survive Day Zero.  I admire his resilience, but I am worried for the 4 million residents of Cape Town.

It is nice to be back home in Athens where we have conscientious local leaders who are willing to take responsibility for the future.  In February 2107, Athens’ Mayor and Commission approved the three recommendations of a risk-based water assessment. First, implement a water reuse program to send recycled water to industrial users that will offset demands for potable drinking water.  Second, develop additional conservation measures to reduce per capita demands by an additional 10%. Third, investigate the feasibility of additional raw water and recycled water storage.  These solutions will ensure that Athens will have reliable water supplies in the future.

I would love to travel to Cape Town again.  Hopefully, they will have resolved their water crisis before my next visit.

How much water is left in Cape Town today? Check out their water dashboard.

To learn more about the water crisis in Cape Town check out this great website from the University of Cape Town.