Shhh, Do You Hear That? Using Acoustics for Leak Detection in Athens

By: Keri Greeson, Intern for the Water Conservation Office

When you think of leaks, you probably imagine a drippy faucet in the kitchen or a bad flapper in the toilet. But those are the easy ones to find. What would you do if you had a tricky leak, like one beneath the hard pavement of our roads? These are the types of leaks that can literally keep a water professional up at night.

Nighttime is the best time to find dripping water. Generally, things are quieter at 10:00 pm than they would be midday. As an intern for the Water Conservation Office, I joined KJ and Justin, leak detectives with WachsWater, on a late-night leak-seeking run. These experts use the power of sound to help detect otherwise hard-to-find leaks throughout Athens. This particular night featured a hunt around the West side of Athens, an area roughly stretching from the Chick-Fil-A on Atlanta Highway to Bogart.

Water loss consultant Justin dons a pair of headphones attached to hand-held sensory equipment. It is similar to someone scanning the beach with a metal detector, minus the socks and sandals. KJ broke down how using acoustics for leak detection works: “Imagine a doctor with a stethoscope; everything is amplified.  It’s loud.  Depending on how big the leak is, it would sound like opening the faucet in a bathtub.”

Experts begin their assessments with this most basic method of utilizing acoustics to check assets, such as a fire hydrant, connected to the water lines. If you find – or hear – a clue that suggests a leak, you then perform additional tests. Sensors attach to pipes and apply an algorithm to determine roughly the location of the underground leak.

Now, let’s say you need to check under a hard surface like pavement. For this job, the professionals will use different attachments that can be set directly on the hard surface as a ground mic. On the back of the truck, Justin introduced me to the equipment used (figure 1).


Figure 1: The Acoustic Detection Equipment

Water lines typically run with the layout of roads. An expert will check down one side of the road and then across to the other. This process is relatively simple. No water shut-offs or other invasive procedures are required to do the checks. Justin explains that if you determine that you hear a leak sound, you will trace over the top of your line listening as the noise gets louder and louder until it peaks. At that point, you can ask, “Are you on a leak?”

KJ goes the extra mile by running water quality tests on water collected from leaks to check for the presence of chlorine. If chlorine is in the water, that’s a confirmation that they have found treated water from the water provider. If there is no chlorine, then the water found is most likely from another source, possibly groundwater or stormwater.

I watched as KJ and Justin worked as a team. While Justin walked outfitted in the acoustic equipment (figure 2) listening for signs of leaks, KJ tracked their progress on a map to ensure all the locations are covered.


Figure 2: Justin checks for leaks off of Atlanta Highway

WachsWater pays Athens-Clarke County an annual visit, covering about ⅕ of the county per year in a search for leaks in our infrastructure. The process can be time-consuming, but it’s essential to ensure our infrastructure is optimized to conserve water. Once we are confident our water delivery system runs efficiently without leaks, we can all get a good night’s sleep.

Like we say here at the Water Conservation Office, Every Drop Counts!

Momentum is Building for Water Reuse in Georgia

Momentum is Building for Water Reuse in Georgia

Marilyn Hall is the Water Resources Planner for Athens-Clarke County and serves on the Board of Directors for the Water Reuse Association. 

Despite abundant rainfall, periodic water shortages are a fact of life in Georgia.  The state’s future depends upon a consistent supply of fresh water and utilities are looking to water recycling to fulfill that need. Water recycling, also known as water reuse, is the process of intentionally capturing wastewater and cleaning it for a designated beneficial purpose such as drinking, industrial processes, water supply augmentation, and environmental restoration.

Communities across the state already incorporate non-potable water recycling into their water management strategies. Non-potable water recycling refers to reclaiming water from wastewater treatment facilities and using it for irrigation, industrial uses, or other non-drinking water purposes.  The Douglasville-Douglas County Water and Sewer Authority provides recycled water to a Google Data Center for industrial cooling. Other cities, such as Savannah, Braselton, and Winder, provide recycled water for irrigation.

Two water providers in Georgia stand out as innovators in indirect potable reuse. Indirect potable reuse entails blending recycled water into environmental systems before the water is reused as a drinking water source. Gwinnett County’s wastewater treatment facilities consistently produce high quality water that is returned to Lake Lanier, the drinking water source for much of the Atlanta metropolitan area. The Clayton County Water Authority utilizes a system of interconnected wastewater plants, constructed wetlands, reservoirs, and water treatment plants to recycle water back to drinking water.

Water recycling is gaining momentum in Georgia as water providers, regulators, and researchers continue to make new investments in both potable and non-potable water recycling. For example, Gwinnet County is researching technologies that provide purified recycled water directly into drinking water supply systems and Athens-Clarke County is investing in a new system that will provide recycled water for industrial use. Additionally, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division is developing guidelines to help water and wastewater service providers navigate implementation of indirect potable reuse.  Continued investment in research and implementation of new programs reveal a hopeful future for water recycling in Georgia.

ACC Water Utility Workers Solve Problem of Flushable Wipes Clogging Pipes

The coronavirus has us using more paper towels, wipes, tissues, and shop towels than ever before. Many of these items are being disposed of as if they were part of a fish burial – flushed down the toilet.

Not sure what to flush? Keep in mind the 4 Ps of Flushing: Only Pee, Poo, Paper, & Puke

Thousands of wipes and similar trash arrives at the North Oconee Water Reclamation Facility (WRF) daily. The gobs of debris clog the screens, grinders, and other equipment, causing the water reclamation operators to pull 100+ pound “mopheads” from the machinery. A mophead is a nickname given to the obstruction made of collected wipes and other materials, which resembles the head of a mop. The “flushable” wipes and other rags are the banes of every operator’s existence, resulting in the need for repairs and maintenance, which increase costs ultimately covered through water rates.

The creative folks at the North Oconee, Middle Oconee, and Cedar Creek WRFS decided it was time to turn lemons into lemonade. If people choose to ignore messaging about the proper disposal of wipes, which is simply to put them in the trash, they must come up with another solution.

Bruce Perkins, Inventory Control Technician, is always on the lookout for innovative ways to increase efficiency and use materials wisely. He realized people continue to flush wipes, despite being warned of how flushed trash can lead to a toilet back up in the home. With the popularity of wipes and the recent shortage of toilet paper and similar items, Mr. Perkins decided it was time to jump on the recycling bandwagon and recycle the mounds of wipes.

Perkins reached out to Dave Bloyer, Compliance Coordinator, to get advice on how to bring his dream to fruition. Together, the two devised a plan to recycle the flushable wipes with hopes of having a prototype developed by mid-April 2020. Applying advanced technology in oxidation and ultraviolet treatments as the primary method of disinfecting the flushed disinfecting wipes, the pair developed a trademarked method by April 1, weeks ahead of schedule.

The “mophead” on the left is harvested for flushed wipes to be recycled for use again as a product called “Bottom Buffs”.

The result is Bottom Buffs© pre-moistened, recycled “re-flushable” wipes, which are practically white except for a rusty hue. The inventors packaged the product into a tiny trash can, with the hope when the small container is empty, it will be placed in the bathroom to collect future first time “flushable” wipe products, thus limiting the number flushed in the first place.

The beauty of the product is because the wipes have been through the sewer system once, they are more likely to break down this go around, thus lessening the chances of a dreaded clog in pipes as with the first time they are flushed. Bottom Buffs are available at the North Oconee WRF for a limited time only, as the producers hope to see a significant drop in raw materials very soon.

The Athens-Clarke County Public Utilities Department (PUD) appreciates the contributions made by Bruce Perkins and David Bloyer, both of who will be retiring from the utility at the end of the week. The water utility wishes them well and hopes their memory lives on within the department longer than it takes a flushed wipe to break down, which can be a very, very long time.


GA EPD Announces Level 1 Drought Response for Athens-Clarke County

103 GA counties

103 GA counties in Level 1 Drought Response declaration issued by GA EPD

Worsening drought conditions prompted a Level 1 Drought Response declaration from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) for 103 counties, including Athens-Clarke County (ACC).  This declaration requires the ACC Public Utilities Department (PUD) to begin a public information campaign to help citizens better understand drought, its impact on water supplies and the need for water conservation.

“This serves as a reminder for all Georgians to use water wisely,” said EPD Director Richard Dunn.  “It also gives public water systems an opportunity to educate their customers on the importance of water conservation.”

There are no additional water restrictions called for in a Level 1 Drought Response.  ACC PUD asks residents to continue to follow the water use schedule required under the Water Stewardship Act of 2010.  Outdoor water use is limited year-round to the hours between 4 p.m. and 10 a.m.  There are several exceptions to this limitation listed at

To determine the appropriate level of drought response, EPD considers several factors including precipitation, stream flows, groundwater, reservoir levels, short-term climate predictions, and soil moisture.  EPD monitors and produces publicly available reports on these conditions on a monthly basis.

ACC’s water supply comes from the North and Middle Oconee Rivers and the Bear Creek Reservoir.  In the last report on October 11, the reservoir was about 0.54 feet below full pool with approximately 98.21 percent of the reservoir volume is available at this time.

“Dry spells and drought are part of a normal weather pattern.  Because we don’t know how long a drought will last, it is important we implement water conservation measures inside and outside of our homes to reduce demand on our water supply,” says Laurie Loftin, ACC Water Conservation Coordinator.

Loftin encourages ACC water customers to register for the new WaterSmart AMI Portal.  “The online tool enables residents to see how much water they are using for everyday tasks.  For example, a resident may discover they use 40 gallons of water during a shower. With this knowledge, a homeowner can then look for ways to conserve and reduce water use while showering.”

Additional tips for conserving water are available at and the GA EPD’s website:

EPD maintains a web page to keep the public informed regarding drought indicators, current variances, and EPD actions regarding drought:

Love: it’s not just in the air

On Valentine’s Day 2019, our city of Athens was overflowing with love.  From across the city, sweethearts of all ages flocked to the North Oconee Water Reclamation Facility to celebrate their affection on a Valentine’s Day Tour.  Couples were treated to a truly romantic experience, complete with a photo booth, bouquets of fresh-cut flowers, decadent desserts, and a stunning waterfall.  The lovebirds even enjoyed a special swan sighting!  Strolling hand in hand around the water treatment site, the valentines soaked up the warm sun as well tips and tricks for water conservation.  With their one and only, the lovers learned that we are given only one gift of water, but that we all can make waves when it comes to conservation.  “I learned how easy it is to be smart with water and how lucky we are to have easily accessible clean water,” beamed one guest, with stars in her eyes.  Others described the tour as “romantic [and] very fun and unique,” recommending that “everyone that lives in Athens should do the tour!”  If you and your beloved missed this year’s soiree, fear not!  The romantic Valentine’s Day Tour will return next year, for lovers and lovers of water alike!


You had me at H2O!


Love is in the water!


Swan sightings


Sweet treats for the sweethearts


Romantic photos at the waterfall

A Love Letter to My Bathroom

This week’s blog is brought to you by Laura Paquette, Water Conservation Intern and resident Bathroom Whisperer.

Dear Bathroom,

Happy Valentine’s Day!  Can you believe that we get to spend another February 14th together?!?  Since it’s that time of year, I want to show you some love and thank you for putting up with all of my crap.  Literally.  You love me unconditionally, and you never complain when I sing off-key in the shower.  This Valentine’s Day, I want to shower you with gifts that make WaterSense.

I know how hard you work to keep that water flowing at the sink, so I want to make it a little easier for you with a brand new WaterSense certified faucet aerator! By mixing air with water, you become 20% more efficient than other models.  You can relax, and let the aerator make washing up a breeze!

Beloved bathroom, you give me the best water pressure around, and I hope that this new showerhead will take the pressure off you. Now you can go with the flow of the water, trusting that your WaterSense endorsed showerhead will be there for you.

One last accessory for you, love: a toilet flapper.  You flush all of my problems down the drain, so the least I can do for you is help keep leaks at bay.  With your new flapper, you won’t have to worry about losing water anymore.

Yours truly,

A Not-So-Secret Admirer

The Super Bowl Spirit of Sustainability

This week’s blog is written by Laura Paquette, Water Conservation Intern.

It begins, as so many things do, in childhood.  Before we can read and write, before we know our phone number or can spell our names, we know who our team is.  We don the jerseys of beloved players and commit the chants and fight songs to memory.  We set aside long days in preparation of the game, sacrificing hot dogs and chips and ice-cold beers to the sports gods, in hopes that our team will win.  We know, instinctively, that because we support a team, we belong to something bigger than ourselves.  And once a year, each February, we come together to witness team support at its peak, during the Super Bowl.

This year, even though the Falcons didn’t make it, they – or at least their home stadium – will still play a special role on game day.  Atlanta’s newly minted Mercedes-Benz Stadium will host the battle between the Patriots and the Rams, making it a huge source of excitement and pride for the city and state of Georgia as a whole.

But why should we care about the building where this game will be played?

In short, because it represents a monumental effort to stick to one’s values in the service of a greater cause, a cause backed by none other than Arthur Blank, co-founder of the Home Depot and leader for construction of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

From the start, Blank saw the stadium as more than just a building. It was a chance to prove something in a world where sustainability is quickly becoming less of an architectural trend and more of a pillar of responsible building practices.  Beginning the project, Blank declared that his goal for the new stadium was to attain a Platinum-level LEED certification.

Okay, hold up.  What in the world is LEED certification?  LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is bestowed upon buildings that go above and beyond to incorporate an environmentally-friendly and sustainable design.  LEED has different levels of certification earned by obtaining a certain number of points, and platinum is the most coveted.  Platinum certification is a huge deal in the architectural community and was considered impossible for a stadium to achieve.

That is until the Mercedes-Benz Stadium beat the odds.  Each element of the stadium was carefully reviewed to increase efficiency and earn maximum LEED points.  The efforts paid off and the venue is not only the first stadium to achieve platinum status, but it earned the highest LEED score ever for a sports facility, including all 10 possible water category credits.

Like the Pantheon-esque design of the stadium?  What’s inside is even more impressive, as the responsible use of water was at the root of all design decisions.  Hidden within the stadium is a storm vault system and a large cistern to capture rainfall for reuse in the cooling tower and landscape irrigation.  These elements protect valuable water resources for the citizens of Atlanta and work like a giant sponge to help keep flooding, a constant issue for the area, at bay.

In some cases, the need for water was completely eliminated. Specifically, FieldTurf, a type of fake grass à la Astroturf, took the place of live grass, saving gallons upon gallons of water in field maintenance.  Even the bathrooms in the stadium blow old sports facility sustainability out of the water.  Literally: the urinals in the stadium are waterless!  And you know when the bathroom goes above and beyond, a building really is amazing.  With additional water-efficient fixtures in place, the stadium uses 47% less water than its counterparts.

In the mood for a bite to eat in the iconic stadium?  Though the available concessions don’t add to the LEED certification credits, they do offer the sports fan the opportunity to care for water, too.  Sure, you can grab a tired hot dog or hamburger, the traditional foods offered in every stadium across America.  But as you are learning, this is not your average stadium. Not only will you find the concessions surprisingly affordable, but the variety of options is exciting and allows for more sustainable choices.  Several food vendors offer vegetarian or vegan options, a rarity in most sports venues.  Anytime you choose a meatless meal, you reduce your water footprint.

These are just a few of the stadium’s unique features.  You can explore more on the MBS website or through video.  If you’re still curious, you can even visit the stadium for a tour to learn more about this pioneering structure.

Essentially, the big question, besides who will win its inaugural Super Bowl, is why should we, hardcore fans who carry out crazy game day superstitions (hello lucky jersey that hasn’t been washed in 5 years) all to secure a win for our team, care about the world’s greenest sports stadium?

The answer is simple.  Because during Super Bowl LIII and inside the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, we aren’t just rooting for the Rams.  Or the Patriots.  In fact, the team we’re rooting for isn’t playing out on the field at all.  We may not realize it, but we are all on the same team, Team Water.  Players like the Mercedes-Benz Stadium invite us to take action to support Team Water, the most important team of all, and illustrate how everyone, from quarterbacks to fans can embody the team spirit of conservation and sustainability.

Just like when we were kids, painting our faces with our team’s colors and cheering on the sidelines, we again have an opportunity to support something greater than just a game, than a stadium or a city, something greater than us all.  After all, isn’t that what it means to be a team?

10 Simple Water Resolutions for the New Year

This week’s blog is from Laurie Loftin, Water Conservation Coordinator and your personal cheerleader.  I know you can do at least one of these all year!!!

You tried to lose ten pounds and failed.  You wanted to save money but spent it.  You have an unused gym membership from last year.  Are you really going to make another tired New Year’s Resolution?

Instead of making another overdone promise to change yourself in the new year, chose to be different by going BIG!  Declare 2019 the year you decided to doggedly protect yourself, water, and the world.

I offer 10 options for change you can make NOW to turn yourself into a Water Warrior.

1.  Quit the Bottle

A common resolution is to save money.  You can very easily do this AND use water wisely with one little change.  Drink tap water instead of bottled water.  A gallon of tap water in Athens-Clarke County costs less than $.01.  A gallon of bottled water can go up to $8.00!  You protect water by quitting the bottle, too.  It takes 3 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water.

Pouring Fresh Tap Water Into a Glass

2.  Hit the Trail

Locate the local source of your drinking water supply.  Are there any trails you can walk that follow beside or around the source?  Pledge to walk the trail once a week.  Take mental snapshots of the water levels and compare these throughout the year.  In Athens, we pull water from the Middle and North Oconee Rivers.  The UGA State Botanical Gardens and Ben Burton Park both offer walking trails along the Middle Oconee.  When the weather warms, consider kayaking down your water source.

3.  Be More Charitable

Imagine a day without access to clean water delivery.  Emergencies, health crises, and challenging economic times often make it difficult for people to pay their water bills. To prevent those in our community from experiencing a day without water due to financial hardship, Athens-Clarke County has partnered with The Salvation Army to support our community.  Project SHARE is a program for Athens-Clarke County water customers to assist their neighbors in need. To donate to Project SHARE, enroll in monthly gift giving through your water bill or make a one-time donation.  How easy is that?!?


4.  Give Yourself a Makeover…

in your bathroom.  Replace those old fixtures and faucets with a WaterSense labeled product to become more water efficient this year.  Once you knock this out, you are saving water without even trying!  See the difference you make by simply switching out your showerhead.



5.  Be a Good Role Model for Your Kids

Here is where the old adage “actions speak louder than words” proves itself to be true.  Your children are watching you.  Model how to be water efficient in 2016 so your children will have water for life.280b4059976896583058184127221b59[1]


6.  Find & Fix Leaks

Pledge to not only look for leaks inside and outside your home but to fix the leaks you find within 48 hours.  A leaky toilet wastes the most water and significantly increases your water bill.  Ignore that dripping faucet for the whole year and you lose more than 3,000 gallons of water by the next year.  Remember, your kids are watching.Find leaks 7.  Buy Less

Everything you purchase requires water to get you the product.  This is part of what is called your water footprint.  The socks you buy needed water to grow the cotton, water for manufacturing, water for the packaging, water for transporting… Buy less and shrink your water footprint.  What to do with that extra money?  See #3.The Buyerarchy of Needs

8.  Go Meatless

Try the Meatless Monday craze.  It is simple.  Skip meat in all of your meals on Mondays.  A pound of beef requires about 1,850 gallons of water to produce.  Compare this to only 39 gallons of water to produce a pound of vegetables.  The switch has the power to reduce your water footprint and possibly your waist size.meatless_monday_logo-large[1]



9.  Reduce, Reuse, & Recycle

These 3 Rs apply to water, too.  Remember that water footprint? Water is used in the production of almost everything.  Get more life out of a product by reusing or recycling it to make those gallons go further.  A ton of recycled paper uses 50% less water than that to make one ton of paper products from virgin wood pulp.recyclemore[1]


10.  Turn Off the Water While You Brush

If you achieve no other resolutions this year, choosing simply to turn off the water while you brush your teeth is the one to master.  You will quickly realize it requires very little effort on your part.  Stick a post-it to your mirror with a printed friendly reminder.  Doing this one thing can provide a 1,000 gallon a year savings for you.  If everyone in the United States did it, we would save 314 billion gallons.  Wow!Turn off the water while brushing.

Pick one or two of these actions and start today.  Every little bit you do helps water.  You can do it!

Did you make a water-related New Year’s Resolution for 2019?  Share it with us!

Athens Water Festival 2018: A Universe Restored

Athenians banded together on September 8th at Sandy Creek Park to become Water Avengers, collect Infinite Stones, and unlock the secret to saving our water resources. Through games and activities, these water warriors rose to the challenge to protect our planet. Over 1,000 attendees made this event possible, and we here at the Water Conservation Office want to say thanks for your commitment to conserving water and thinking at the sink. Live music, water trucks, wildlife encounters, and delicious cricket cookies truly made this year’s event sparkle. Check out the photos below to see for yourself!

Water trucks kept the visitors cool on a hot day in the park.

UGA Marine Sciences had some aquatic friends of their own.


Water Avengers, assemble!


Saving the day, one water droplet at a time!


Thanks to Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources for bringing their animal friends along.


Picking up the Pieces with Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful.

All eyes on Keith, the Magic Man!

Athens Water Festival 2018

Attention water warriors, we need you! Join your fellow Athenians at the Athens Water Festival in a quest to find six infinite stones. These will unlock the secret to saving our water resources. Through various water activities, you will discover how to protect the world and water from threats too large for one warrior to handle.

  • When:  Saturday, September 8, 2018
  • Time:  10:30AM – 2:00PM
  • Where:  Sandy Creek Park, 400 Bob Holman Road, Athens, GA 30607
  • Cost:  $2 park entry; festival activities are FREE!
  • What:  A family-friendly event all about water; bring a swimsuit
  • More info:  Visit

What can you expect to accomplish at the water festival? Below is a sampling of activities.

  1. Thanos has used the power of the infinity gauntlet to blow half the universe into tiny pieces (like billions of bits of microplastics). Join Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful to put things back in order and restore balance by collecting all the bits to clean things up to help the Avengers rise a
  2. gain to protect the planet.
  3. Use your avenger agility skills to dodge water drops sprayed from water trucks.
  4. Meet mysterious critters from UGA Bug Dawgs and UGA Warnell’s School of Forestry an
    d Natural Resources.
  5. Discover the magic of water with Keith, the magic man.
  6. Make thunder using drums from Dr. Arvin Scott and Drumming for Success.


The Athens Water Festival is one of the top annual family events in Athens.  Meteorologists predict good, mild weather.  UGA conveniently scheduled an away, football game so as not to conflict with the festival. There is truly no reason to not attend the 2018 Athens Water Festival.  Bring your bravery, courage, and strength to the festival and show us what a true Water Avenger looks like.