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


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


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


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


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!

airport sink

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.

airport toilet

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

airport hallway

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

on the line

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

airport billboard

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.


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.

newspaper old

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.

You might have something hiding in your home…

You might have something hiding in your home…



FALW_full_logo_2018_300ppi.jpgIt’s fix a leak week and that means it’s time to chase down some leaks!

The first thing you can do is a water meter check. This will be able to tell you if you’ve got a larger leak and how much water is being wasted…but unfortunately it won’t be able to tell you the location of the leak or if you’ve got smaller leaks.

The first step is to make sure that all the water is turned off inside and outside your home. Avoid flushing toilets, using your washing machine or dishwasher, and even getting ice or water out of the dispenser from your refrigerator.

Next…Go look at your water meter. Write down the reading and wait about 30 minutes. Make sure that no one uses any water in the house!

After the wait is over go back to your water meter. Has the reading changed and recorded any water use? You might have a leak if it did. This test will only be useful to detect large leaks in your home. Be sure to test for smaller leaks as well.

Your next step in your hunt for leaks should be with your toilet. Toilet leaks are one of the most common household leaks. They usually go unrecognized because they’re often silent or you just can’t see them.

Larger leaks can be found if the valve is constantly making a noise even when not in use. Smaller leaks need a little more attention to be found. A very simple dye test can be done to see if your flapper valve isn’t functioning properly. It’s so easy we even made a short video on how to do this!

  • Acquire some type of dye (food coloring or dye tablets)
  • Remove lid to tank of toilet
  • Place dye in the toilet tank
  • Wait 15~ minutes
  • Inspect bowl of toilet

If there’s colored dye in your toilet before you flush…LEAK! This problem can be caused by a number of reasons: 1) the flapper is worn down or warped and needs to be replaced; 2)the chain attached to the flapper that is activated by pulling the handle is snagging and not letting the flapper to fall back into the valve seat; or 3) the valve seat is worn.

More ways your toilet could be leaking:

  • The water level is adjusted too high. The water level should be no higher than 1 inch below the overflow tube.
  • The refill valve needs to be replaced.
  • Your float ball isn’t working and the refill valve isn’t shutting off.

When you’re done checking your toilet for leaks you can look at this checklist from WaterSense for more ideas on where leaks might be hiding:ws-ourwater-detect-and-chase-down-leaks-checklist-2.png

This blog was written by Brittni Viskochil who is working up a sweat while chasing down leaks.

You Can Cut Their Heads Off And They’ll Still Grow

IMG_20160816_103948989_HDRPropagating succulent plants is an exciting and inexpensive way to grow your flora collection! Do you have any succulents around the house that need pruning? Do you want to feed your succulent obsession but just don’t have the budget for purchasing more plants? Fear not! You can cut the heads off of your existing succulent plants to produce more!

The succulent propagation process is easy and requires little water which makes a water conservation enthusiast like me very happy 🙂 Some plant species are easier to propagate than others, but I’m going to spell out a few tricks that I’ve learned to help you in your experimental attempts. I am still new to the world of succulent plants, but I’ve been extremely satisfied with my level of success in propagation.

Where is a good place to start?

One way to propagate a succulent is to cut a branching stem off from a “mother plant.”


Notice there are two separate stems sprouting from the same plant pictured on the left. I’ll continue to grow the main stem that looks nicer and cut off the left stem to propagate from. Each healthy leaf from this succulent plant can serve as a new “mother plant” if nurtured carefully. The first thing to do when preparing your plant for propagation is to carefully remove a section that you are ready to part with. Once removed, you can start to pluck each leaf from the stem…



Pay special attention to how you pluck the leaves from your clipped stem. If you snap a leaf in half (see below), it will not produce successful offspring. An easy way to ensure smooth leaf removal is to pinch the leaf with your forefinger and thumb then twist away from the stem. Be gentle with the leaves as you twist to prevent any breakage. The photo below illustrates the two potential outcomes when plucking from your succulent stem. 1) A successful leaf removal with no signs of damage and 2) An unsuccessful removal that results in a broken leaf. If you break a leaf, toss it into your compost pile. You only want to keep your successful attempts. IMG_20160529_101548213

Here is a photo collage of leaf removal:

Now let’s go back to your mother plant… After clipping one of its stems, allow the wound on the mother plant to heal over– similar to a scab. Make sure to check that the stem has healed before introducing water to it; otherwise, the succulent may become too saturated and might rot. The same goes for each leaf that you remove from your clipped stem; allow the tip of each leaf to scab over before providing them with water. The scabbing process may take a few days; the bigger the surface of the cut, the longer it will take to heal. Store all of your leaves in a container in an area with indirect sunlight while giving them time to scab over. I used a cupcake carrier tray to contain my leaves in, which worked great for toting them out of the way when I needed to. Be sure not to give too much direct sun during this stage since you won’t be hydrating the leaves while their tips heal. I made the mistake of burning my first batch! Here is a successful trial:


After your plucked leaves begin to form a protective layer over their wounds, place them in some soil so that the end which attached to the stem touches the soil. You can collect leaves from a variety of succulents to create a mandala design!


Put your leaves in a sunlit windowsill and spritz the soil with water every few days. Avoid spraying water directly on the leaves, as they can shrivel if too saturated. There is no need to water the leaves everyday… If your soil is moist, then do not water again. You want to apply water to the soil only when the soil feels dry to the touch. However, don’t leave your soil to get bone dry!

Maintaining your leaves is incredibly easy… even if you are forgetful! You are more likely to hurt the leaves by over watering them rather than under watering them. I accidentally left my leaves unwatered for over 3 weeks…they still began to sprout roots and new leaves once I added water.

After a few weeks or months of tender love and care, your plucked leaves will begin to grow roots and little leaves. Allow this process to continue and leave the “mother leaf” until it shrivels. Once it shrivels, you can remove it and transplant your new succulent baby into its own pot! Here’s a picture of baby succulents growing from an old stem that I repotted. The new leaves grew from areas where old leaves were plucked from. How exciting!

Let’s revisit your mother plant again… Does it have dead leaves at its base? If so, give the succulent a manicure by removing the expired leaves. Once you clear out the dried leaves, your succulent will look brand new in its pot! I find this to be so therapeutic 🙂

Becoming a succulent goddess is fun! You can propagate like crazy and produce hundreds of baby plants all from one original mother succulent. Not only will your house and office be adorned with a succulent family, but you’ll also have a water conservation stamp of approval for gardening with water-wise methods. Congrats!


This blog was written by Emily Bilcik, a self-acclaimed succulent goddess and self-taught gardener.