Our Chance to Prove Ourselves to the Nation

This weeks blog post was written in collaboration with the Wyland Foundation by Camilla Sherman, Water Pledge Extraordinaire. 

It’s April, and that means we are competing in the National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation again! Last year, we placed 3rd in our division, nationally! Let’s bring our finesse for pledging to conserve back this year and try to get that 1st place spot. The city that wins first place is eligible to win all types of cool prizes, including a new car!

mayors challenge 3rd 2015

The South is home to some of the country’s fastest growing states. As populations grow and demands for water increase, more roads, parking lots, buildings, and pollution make providing a steady, sufficient water supply a bigger challenge than ever. Yet, the issues far surpass fresh drinking water needs: pumping of groundwater in parts of Florida has begun drying up environmentally sensitive wetlands, jobs are in jeopardy along the Georgia coast because drinking water reservoirs dam up freshwater needed to maintain commercial fishing, and water-related cutbacks have caused blackouts and power shortages in North Carolina and Alabama. Conserving water by consuming less, wasting less, or reusing more, reduces costs and postpones or eliminates the need for expensive and environmentally damaging new dams, similar water supply projects, and major infrastructure investments.

As it has become increasingly clear, the value of water conservation has enormous benefits to local economies, the environment, and even our global climate. By being mindful of water use we have an opportunity to save enormous amounts of energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and often ensure adequate reserves during drought periods, population surges, or to support additional farming. The bottom line is: water conservation not only benefits every state in the nation, it benefits the entire planet.

Did you know?

  • Approximately 400 billion gallons of water are used in the United States per day
  • American residents use about 100 gallons of water per day. At 50 gallons per day, residential Europeans use about half of the water that residential Americans use. And residents of sub-Saharan Africa use only 2-5 gallons per day
  • The average faucet flows at a rate of 2 gallons per minute. You can save up to four gallons of water every morning by turning off the faucet while you brush your teeth
  • A running toilet can waste up to 200 gallons of water per day
  • At 1 drip per second, a faucet can leak 3,000 gallons per year

That is why we, as residents of Athens-Clarke County, need to do our part to conserve water and energy. There are many conservation events in Athens each year to help residents do their part to reduce waste. This year’s Ripple Effect Film Project was on March 19th, 2016 and was complete with a blue carpet and a VIP lounge for the water conservation filmmakers. Tyler Ortell, a senior at Oconee County High School won the best overall award of $500 with his amazing film, “The Drought Zone.” Roll Out the Barrels is happening on May 26th, 2016 at Southern Brewing Company. This family friendly event allows you to bid on a rain barrel decorated by a local artist to support environmental education. Other Athens water events include Rivers Alive, when Athens residents help clean up our local waterways, and the Athens Water Festival, where the public can learn about water conservation through fun activities with many water organizations there to help. Be sure to keep an eye out for announcements on when these Athens events are happening this year.

Athens-Clarke County Mayor, Nancy Denson, has said, “Athens is one of the most caring cities in America. Now it’s our chance to show that to the world.”

Now is your chance to get involved and make a difference. Be a part of the National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation and make your pledge to reduce water consumption at MyWaterPledge.com. If Athens has the highest percentage of participating residents taking the pledge, we will all be entered to win great prizes-like a Toyota Prius v, Home Improvement Store Gift Cards, Toro Smart Irrigation Controllers, and more.


Let’s work together to protect our resources and show those Tech fans in Atlanta that we can do better than them in more things than just football!

March Madness-it’s not just for basketball

This week’s blog post is written by Caroline Cummings, WCO intern and Tarheels fan. 

march madness

For those of us that are sports fans, the past few weeks of March Madness have lived up to their name. From the surprising upsets to the expected victories, the competition gives us a little extra excitement in our lives. As March Madness winds down, I was thinking, why don’t we add some competition to our water conservation efforts? It’s a known perception that healthy competition makes us perform better, so it is here that I commence Water Conservation Madness! Consider teaming up and competing in a conservation tournament with family members, neighbors, co-workers, classmates, or friends to see how much water you can save together!

Round 1 

For the first round, I thought we would start off with something a little easier: compete to see who can compile the longest list of simple and feasible ways to conserve water around the household, office, or classroom. Whoever creates the longest list, wins!

Tips can be found in previous blog posts or our Facebook page → Lily Anne Phibian

Round 2 

As the competition gets stiffer, so do the challenges. For this round, competitors will see who can make the most creative jar to store their fats, oils, and grease, which should never be poured down the sink. Mason jars make great starting materials for this challenge.

ball 3ball 2il_570xN.649255811_6oif

Some inspiration for this challenge can be found here: Mason Jar Decoration Ideas

Round 3 aka Sweet 16

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the Sweet Sixteen! For this round, participants will compete to see who can attend a local (drinking) water reclamation/treatment facility tour and remember the most information! Try challenging each other after your tours to test each other’s knowledge. Some sample questions may include:

  • What organisms help remove organic material from wastewater?
  • What chemicals are added to water when it’s at a treatment facility and why?
  • What is your town’s source of drinking water

ACC Unified Government Tours

Round 4 aka Elite 8water pledge

Aside from those whom with you are competing, use this round to spread the word on water conservation. The first to get 8 other friends to commit to trying out new ways to conserve wins this round. For inspiration of things your friends can do, try consulting your lists you made in Round 1. Another option would be to have 8 people commit to playing in your next tournament or singing a pledge to reduce their water consumption. This challenge is a guaranteed way to make sure your friends become elite water warriors.

Round 5 aka Final 4 Shower_7640_nevit

The competition is getting fierce and so are our challenges! This round, you will compete to see who can take the shortest shower. In the spirit of the Final Four, see if you can limit your shower time to 4 minutes, or about the length of one song. This may be a tad ambitious, especially for those with longer hair, so just focusing on limiting your use is what’s important here. Whoever takes the shortest shower (and still comes out clean), wins this round!

Round 6 aka the Championship Game

For the final round, the remaining competitors will focus on creating a goal for lowering their water bill. This can be through limiting household water use, fixing leaks, insulating pipes, or any other number of efforts. The competitor who reaches their goal first or has the lowest water bill at the end of this round, wins the tournament!


You have now reached the end of Water Conservation Madness. The athletes that compete in the actual tournament practice basketball year-round, and the same should go for water conservation. Let this fun dose of competition influence your daily practices on and off the “court.”

Is Wastewater Accurate?

This week’s blog is written by Laurie Loftin, who hopes to improve your vocabulary

Wastewater.  What do you think of when you hear this word?  Since working for a public utility, I associate it with water that goes into our sewers.  It is dirty, unpleasant, and nothing I want to get into.  Looking at the definition, I find it described as water that contains waste products; sewage.  Reading this, one realizes wastewater is simply a part of speech we refer to as a compound word.

There is a lot more water than there is waste in this liquid.

I never gave the word this much thought until I attended a water-related conference.  One of the speakers, who I apologize profusely to for I can’t remember her name, brought up the term.  She was disturbed that the word “waste” would ever be so commonly placed with the word “water”.  Her point being that water is so precious, we should never think of “wastewater”.  Water is too important to waste or be associated with wasting.

Since then, “wastewater” has been sloshing around my brain.  The speaker had a brilliant argument, particularly from a conservationist point of view.  We constantly create new ways to reach people with a message of not to waste water, yet as a public utility, we refer to wastewater every day.

Additionally, the term “wastewater” is completely inaccurate when you consider the treatment method the used liquid encounters.  Upon reaching a water reclamation facility, any solid wastes are immediately removed from the water through the screening and filtering processes.  Next, the water is introduced to microorganisms.  These little bugs get busy removing the contaminants we can’t see, such as phosphorus, ammonia, and other “yuckies”.  The water then passes through a bed of ultraviolet lights to offer additional disinfection.  The end product, called effluent, is reclaimed water that has been refreshed and is returned back to the source.

At no point during the water reclamation treatment is water wasted.  So how can we continue to call this used water “wastewater” when none is wasted?  The only “waste” is the “waste” added to the water.  This waste is giving our precious water a bad name.

With this rationale, I am proposing we reclaim our water from the waste.  Let’s change the vocabulary we use in our public utilities and coin a new term.

We turned to social media and posed this question to our followers: “What should we rename “wastewater”?”  Several wonderful and thoughtful suggestions came pouring in.  We wanted something that would roll off the tongue, was easy to understand, easy to remember, not too long, and provided a more accurate description.

Our winner is “Flush Water,” suggested by Mary Matthews, a dedicated promoter of water.  It is simple and flows.  It is accurate.  “Flush” is defined as “a rushing or overspreading flow, as of water.”  This happens not only in the typical way we think of a flush of a toilet, but also with the flushing of a pipe or drain.  And when it comes down to it, I think we would all rather be “flush with water” than “waste our water”.

How do I hope to create this movement from “wastewater” to “flush water?”  When I visit with our community through tours or classroom visits, I plan to mention “wastewater” only once.  This will be to briefly explain that I will be referring to this as “flush water” and add a quick explanation as to why.  At professional conferences, I will do the same.  Wherever I go, I will invite people to wash “wastewater” from their mouth, so to speak.

I invite you to become a part of this change in terminology.  “Sewage treatment plants” are now “water reclamation facilities”.   “Wastewater” will be “flush water”.  Will you join me?




Little Lily Hops to Rome for Drinking Fountains and Kitties

Little Lily Hops to Rome for Drinking Fountains and Kitties

Today’s blog was written by Little Lily with the help of Marilyn Hall, Water Conservation Coordinator

Last month I was lucky enough to hop over to Italy.  I was curious about how Italians relate to their water.  Do they conserve like we do here in Athens?  Do they have aging infrastructure problems like in so many U.S. cities?  Here is some of what I learned in my pad hop to Rome, Italy.

This works the best if you click on the first photo and scroll through them.  I hope you like my pictures!

If you enjoy the photos from my trip to Italy, you’ll also want to see when I went to Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic.  I took a long look at toilets there.


Water and Oil: Archenemies

This week’s blog was written by Camilla Sherman, WCO intern and oil obstructer 

We learn in science class that water and oil do not mix. The two just don’t seem to get along. Not only do water and oil not mix chemically, they also should not be mixed for many other reasons too.hydrophobic oil

Oil Spills

Throughout history, as a species, humans always want more. This especially applies to wanting more access to oil to help run more and more luxury items of today’s society. The first item that pops into mind is the car, but other items that utilize fossil fuels include: planes, heating systems for our homes, plastics, medicines, shoes, toothpaste, TVs, etc. This is a huge list that goes on for what seems like forever. Our high demand for more of these products has led to more oil rigs that are extracting more oil than ever. One of the big problems that comes along with this oil economy is oil spills.

oil in ocean

Oil from a tanker on a beach in Wales, 1996

When oil first spills into the ocean, it forms an oil slick on the top of the water that is spread by waves, water currents, and wind force. But what happens to the oil while it sits in the water? Some oil types will partially evaporate, however, the left behind oil is much more dense and viscous than before. Depending on the type, oil can sometimes disperse into the water and become seemingly invisible or it may form a thick mousse with the water. A part of the oil may sink, but the remainder will eventually congeal into tar balls.

Once the oil reaches the coast, it begins to interact with the beach sand and other sediments, plants, and above ground habitats for both humans and wildlife. Oil on the shore causes erosion and contamination of everything it touches.

The effects of oil on marine life are devastating. Oil destroys the insulating ability of mammals with fur, like sea otters, and the water repellancy of feathers for birds. This exposes these creatures to the harsh elements and can lead to death from hypothermia. Wildlife may also ingest the poisonous oil while cleaning themselves. If the oil becomes mixed in the water column, it can harm fish and shellfish as well. These creatures experience bodily malfunctions and their egg and larva survival drops.

oil bird

A bird covered in fuel oil from a tanker spill sits on the beach near Mallipo, South Korea, Dec. 8, 2007. (AP Photo/ Korean Federation for Environmental Movement, HO)

Luckily, there are heroes out there who are constantly working hard to clean-up after oil spills, not unlike our Athens water reclamation heroes. Some are specialist who know how to properly clean off marine animals and return them to their homes in the ocean. There are also specialists that work on removing the oil from the ocean waters. The workers may try to contain the spill and then use skimmers to get the oil slick off of the top of the water or they may work to speed up the biodegradation process of the oil. Recovery rates of an ecosystem after a spill vary depending on the type of oil, how much oil was spilled, the type of climate in the area, and other factors. As a reference, the residue of the Exxon Valdez oil spill on the Alaskan coast happened 25 years ago and there is still oil on the beach scientists say will be there for decades to come.

Oil From Society

The oil waste in the ocean comes from many other sources besides oil spills. Most of the oil in our oceans is oily stormwater drainage from human waste. This comes from cities, farms, unregulated boating, and untreated waste disposal from factories. Approximately 706 million gallons of waste oil ends up in the ocean each year, and over half is from these sources and the careless use of oil and oil products.

develop Cali port-oil

This busy California port shows one source of oil in coastal waters. Notice the dark spot in the foreground.

Oil in Our Pipes

Not unlike the problems oil causes in the ocean and on our beaches, it causes problems in our pipes too. It is hard to think about what happens to the oils that we put down our sinks once they wash away because we can no longer see them. The oils are out of sight and out of mind. To end this blog, I want to remind everyone that this is what can happen when you put your oils down the drain. Remember, put your fats and oils into the trash, not down the drain!

fog clog

This is a clog in a water pipe. Oil clogs cause sewage back-ups into your homes and costly repair bills.

This picture above is of a FOG clog. FOG stands for fats, oils, and grease. These are the 3 big no-nos to consider when cleaning up after a meal and washing things down the drain. The oils may start as a liquid but they will solidify in the pipes. FOG coats the pipes and causes other debris to stick in the pipe, leading to a clog. The workers at the Athens water reclamation facilities work hard to clean up our water before it goes back into the river and eventually becomes drinking water again. Let’s try to make their jobs easier by thinking about what we are putting down our drains!

Water Conservation for Every Season

This week’s blog post is written by Caroline Cummings, WCO intern and someone who’s not sure how to dress for 30-degree mornings and 65-degree afternoons.

The transition from winter to spring in the southeast is always…interesting. The weather is unpredictable to say the least, considering this time two weeks ago it was heavily snowing yet last week it was in the 70s. In Athens, we are “blessed” with the opportunity to experience all seasons in a short amount of time—in as little as two weeks if we’re “lucky.” It can be hard to keep up with all these fluctuations, so here are some tips on how to conserve and appreciate water in every season!



  • Winterize your outdoor pipes: wrap in insulation to keep outdoor pipes from bursting when temperatures drop below freezing.
  • Drip faucets: this may seem counter-intuitive, but by keeping faucets lightly dripping through the coldest hours, you can prevent bursting of pipes which can waste up to TWO bathtubs full of water!
  • Insulate hot water pipes: this will help keep pipes warmer and allow showers and sinks to produce hot water faster, saving many gallons of water. This will also help winterize these pipes and prevent bursts.
  • PLAY in the snow!


Jamie Calkin crop final_thumb

Jamie Calkin. 2012 ACC WCO Roll Out the Barrels

  • Prioritize outdoor watering needs: take time to figure out which areas of your yard (depending on what is planted there) will need the most watering. Focus your water usage on these areas and let natural rainfall take care of the rest!
  • Weed gardens: as weed populations begin to grow with the rain and warmer weather of spring, make sure to manage them by weeding your gardens. This will prevent the weeds from stealing water away from your other plants.
  • Capture and recycle rainwater: using rain barrels (can be bought at Walmart, Home Depot, Amazon, etc): capture all the excess rain to use for future plant watering or car washes.
  • Use your creativity to decorate your rain barrel: they aren’t just functional pieces of equipment, but artwork for your home!


  • Wait until the cooler hours to water lawn: to prevent water loss from evaporation, water your lawns and gardens during the cooler morning hours. This will also help prevent fungal g5b9085241875855d969a8b0be49ebfd7rowth that may occur at dusk and throughout the night.
  • Drink from reusable bottle: we are bound to get thirsty in the hotter months. Every time you use a reusable bottle, you can help save the 3 liters of water that it takes to make a 1 liter disposable bottle.
  • Use a soaker hose/sprinkler wand instead of standard hose: particular hose attachments can help distribute water more efficiently and help prevent loss from mist, runoff, and evaporation.
  •  Go swimming, rafting or kayaking: get outdoors and cool off with some fun water-related activities!


  • Be aware of plant water needs: as the temperatures begin to drop, the water needs of your plants drop with them.
  • Do laundry only when the load is full: as you start to wear more layers, be sure to only do laundry when you have enough clothes to make a full load. One load requires around 30 gallons of water so make sure to use them wisely. anigif_enhanced-9469-1436632452-3
  • Sweep with a broom, not a hose: as the leaves begin to fall, keep your driveways and paths clear by using brooms to sweep up the leaves instead of spraying off with a hose.
  • Hike to nearby waterfalls and enjoy the view: check out this link! Georgia Waterfall Hikes



J.G. Beacham – Treating Water Right for 80 Years

Bolivia Lake Poopo

Bolivia’s Lake Poopó full of water in 1986, left, and almost dry in 2016.

This week’s blog is from Laurie Loftin, who is grateful for easy access to clean drinking water

Water is everywhere, particularly in the news as of late.  This summer, the talk was of the ongoing drought in California, followed by the deluge of rains that led to mudslides and flooding.  Bolivia’s 2nd largest lake was officially declared evaporated last month.  And now we have the absolute disaster unfolding in Flint, Michigan.  Experts predict the damage from lead in the water supply will affect this struggling town for decades to come.

All of these headlines serve as a reminder to me.  I will not take my easy access to clean and affordable water for granted.

With this in mind, I want to recognize the Athens-Clarke County Public Utilities Department.  Full disclosure, I am a proud employee of this organization.  Nevertheless, it is through the services provided by this department that our water is safe for consumption.  Additionally, their work assists to keep our economy flowing, water resources protected, fire safety at easy access, and quality of life up to the standards we have become accustomed.

It all starts at the J.G. Beacham Drinking Water Treatment Plant, which has been key to making water delivery happen.  It wasn’t always this way.  For most of the 1800s, people got their water from wells and the few cisterns in the downtown area.  Bucket brigades were the plan of action for extinguishing fires.

A group of men from New York opened the privately owned Athens City Water Works Company in 1882 on Lumpkin Street in the vicinity of Legion Pool.  The company delivered water that was neither filtered nor treated in any way.


The original J.G. Beacham Drinking Water Treatment Plant, dedicated in 1936.

After complaints of poor water quality and pressure offered by the private company, the city built their own municipal system, the Athens Water Works.  The city purchased the Linton property off of Barber Street and constructed a new water works filter plant that began operating in 1893.  The facility had a capacity of one million gallons a day.

A combination of rapid growth following the depression of 1929, advances in water treatment practices, and the threat of flooding at the original water filter plant due to the elevation, it was necessary for Athens to begin plans for a new facility on land currently owned by the city.


J.G. Beacham is now capable of delivering up to 36 million gallons of clean drinking water a day.

The J.G. Beacham plant was put into service and dedicated in October 1936, with a capacity of seven million gallons a day.  The location of the facility has remained the same for 80 years.  As our population and demand for water have grown, major expansions at the facility were easily accommodated for within the given space.  Today, the J.G. Beacham is capable of delivering 36 million gallons a day.

Athens has three main sources for our drinking water:  1) Middle Oconee River, 2) North Oconee River, and 3) the Bear Creek Reservoir.  All water pulled must first visit J.G. Beacham.  Here the addition of chemical agents into to the water aids in the removal of rust and dirt from the influent.  These same agents help to protect our pipes and prevent lead and copper from leaching into our water.  The water is next sent through a series of filtration and sedimentation basins before passing under the disinfecting powers of the ultraviolet lights.  Clean water moves into the delivery system and arrives at our homes, schools, and business with the seemingly simple twist of a faucet.

Of course, a building cannot automagically turn our river water to drinking water standards without help.  Almost 200 people work in the ACC Public Utilities Department.  From installing and maintaining 800 miles of water delivery lines, to overseeing the treatment process, to performing 116,000 tests on our drinking water a year, someone is always on hand to ensure our water supply is ready for delivery.

Everyone deserves safe, reliable water.  As the  J.G. Beacham Drinking Water Treatment Plant heads into the 80th year of making this service available to the citizens and visitors of Athens, GA, I remind myself to take a moment and recognize the marvel of this vital delivery system.  And I thank all within the ACC Public Utilities Department who commit to treating my water right.


We Treat Water Right