Last week I celebrated my four-year anniversary as the Water Conservation Coordinator here in Athens-Clarke County. Even though I had been working in Environmental Planning since the mid 1990s, focusing on water has been eye-opening.
First, making “Water Conservation” interesting and exciting is hard! When the Water Conservation Office visits classrooms or hosts a festival, we do more than tell people to turn off the water when they brush their teeth. We try to get people thinking about water in ways they never have before. Water sustains life, provides fire protection, drives our economy, transports waste, provides wildlife habitat, makes farming possible, has magical physical properties… the list goes on and on. It is also a limited resource. When people truly understand how important water is and how scarce it can be, they will not need to be told to turn off the tap. They will just do it.
Another thing I have learned is there is more to drought than just the level of the Bear Creek Reservoir. I believe soil moisture is the most important drought indicator. When soil moisture is low the river dries up. When the river is low, the reservoir cannot be replenished and it also gets low. Soil moisture is affected by a lot of things, including groundwater tables. That is why when someone says, “I can use all the water I want to because I am on a well,” I remind them that their water-use can affect the water available to everyone.
Something else I have learned seems obvious to me now. When the demand for water is the highest, our supply is the lowest. The demand is highest in the summer when people are irrigating their lawns, growing gardens, cranking up cooling towers, and playing in the sprinklers. Late summer is also the time of year when river levels naturally are their lowest. Thirsty trees draw water up through roots and water evaporates from the rivers under the hot sun. Increased human demand combined with natural summer pressures can lead to water shortages. That is why the Water Conservation Office continually reminds everyone to be water smart in the summer.
Everyone’s needs are different and the supply is not always reliable. Ensuring that Athens has enough water to meet its needs is complicated. It is challenging and rewarding to work in water conservation. Think about how you and everyone else uses water and you will understand. I am lucky to have such a meaningful job. I hope my next four years will be as satisfying as the first.
And please, turn the water off when you brush your teeth.
ACC Water Conservation Coordinator
Originally posted on waterconservationstation.blogspot.com, 1/15/13