What Do You Mean Summer is Almost Over? It Was Just May!

This week’s blog was written by Christina Abner, an intern who loves making bucket lists as much as she loves summertime

It really seems like this summer has gone by fast.  Just last week, there was still a beach accessory section in every store and this week they’ve all turned into back to school supplies.  I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely not ready for summer to go! In just a couple of weeks our beloved town will have many people returning here for another year of school, and most parents will be rejoicing. Don’t get me wrong.  I love football season and being squished into Sanford Stadium calling the Dawgs, but summer just leaves so fast, that it almost feels like an unfinished project. Since this is my last week in Athens, I thought what better way to send off the summer than with a fun, “water themed” bucket list! Continue reading

Message in A Bottle

This week’s blog is brought to you by Emily Bilcik, a WCO intern.

Society revolves around sending and receiving messages. Many messages we intercept are misleading while some messages are clearer than others, quite literally.

When it comes to drinking water not everyone is as informed as they could be. Bottles of spring water, mineral water, purified water, and sparkling water are all waiting on shelves for us to purchase and drink, but very few of us know enough about them to make educated consumer choices. People aren’t always aware about the potential environmental impacts of our consumption and we often fail to think twice about asking for more product information. The truth is not only sometimes hard to see, but it is also hard to swallow.

Do you know where your drinking water comes from?

If you drink tap water, then you can easily review a detailed annual water quality report from your public water supplier to find out. The report details where your water comes from, what it contains, and how it measures up to national standards. If you drink bottled water, however, it is possible you may never know where the water is sourced or what levels of contaminants are present. There are big differences between bottled water and tap water, especially when it comes to regulation. Tap water is strictly regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is only delivered to the public if it meets safety standards established by the EPA.

full_comic_water_trustContrastingly, bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Both tap water and bottled water are safe to drink permitting they meet the set quality standards. Tap water can only be delivered to a faucet if it meets the EPA drinking water standards, so you can always be assured of clean water from your public supplier. However, bottled water can be shelved and sold in stores even if FDA standards are not fully met.

How do bottled water companies get away with this you ask? According to the Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 administered by the FDA, bottled water companies can sell contaminated water products to their consumers as long as the label mentions a “statement of substandard quality.” So unless you read every bottle you sip from, you may be purchasing poor quality water. THAT should leave a bad taste in your mouth!

Take a quick look at some of the shocking label statements mandated under Title 21 when poor quality bottled water quality is marketed:

label statements

As you can tell,  bottled water is not always safer than tap water. In fact, according to the EPA, some bottled water is treated less than tap water or not even treated at all!  

Bottled water companies are crafty in product advertising.  Their labels are showered with pictures of pristine streams, glaciers, and other seemingly untouched water sources which make us, the consumers, secure in our thoughts that we are paying for a superior product. As disappointing as it sounds, your bottled water is often supplied from a municipal source instead of a mountain spring as the logo may suggest.

For instance, review this common bottled water label. If you can’t read the tiny print, the water comes from “public water sources” which means it originates from the same place your tap water does!

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According to the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), “If a bottled water product’s source is a public water system and the finished bottled water product does not meet the FDA Standard of Identity for purified or sterile water, the product label must disclose the public water system source.” – If you’d like to know the official IBWA definitions for purified water among other types of water click here.

Take this opportunity to practice reading bottled water labels before you buy them. Do you notice something in common between the two labels below? These companies both source from the tap which they denote on the bottle as from a “Public Water Supply” or “Municipal Water Supply.” Not only are the companies blatantly selling you filtered tap water, but they are also selling it to you at 1,000 times the price of regular tap water!! Would you buy a hamburger at 1,000 times the price?
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Avoiding bottled water is easy if you want to do it. If you want to filter your tap water, then invest in a filtered pitcher or reusable bottle. Not only is this a simple solution, but it is also great for your wallet and the environment!

The EPA encourages all consumers to be well informed about the quality of their drinking water. It is important to read about both tap water and bottled water before deciding which to drink. The easiest way to learn more about tap water is by reading your local water supplier’s annual water report. Likewise, if you want to know more about bottled water, read the labels or contact the producers directly. Be sure to ask questions about the things you consume, because there is nothing worse than getting the wrong message.

Water, Water Everywhere (in Music)

Today’s blog post was written by Lily Cason, the WCO Graduate Assistant, who loves music as well as water.

Water is repeatedly called on to serve as a metaphor in song lyrics—for thIce Ice Babye murky depths of sadness, the saturating feelings of love, the ebbs and flows of time, the restorative cleansing of rain, the ephemeral, etc..

Water is used to create music with instruments like glass harps or hydraulophones.

Water appears in album covers, band posters, and music videos. There’s even a music video where an Irish rapper holds his head underwater while he sings the entirety of his three minute song (note: parental guidance suggested if you Google the video).

As a tribute to the connection between water and music, we’ve created a few playlists on Spotify.  The songs reference water, rain, rivers, lakes, oceans, seas, sailing, swimming, and more. You can look us up on Spotify under the username Lily Anne Phibian or listen to the playlists below.

What are your favorite songs that mention water? Are there any that we should add to our playlists?


Water in R&B/Soul Music:

Water in Indie Music:

Water in Bluegrass Music:

Water in Folk Music

Water in Music Made by Athenians:

Water in Kid Friendly Music:

And Our Catch All Water in Music Playlist:

And the Ripple Effect Winner Is…

This week’s blog is submitted by Laurie Loftin, aka “The Drop-parrazzi” of the event

Local filmmakers once again made a splash at the Ripple Effect Film Project.  The 2015 event included 27 films with a focus on water conservation and stewardship.  Winning films received a water meter hand-painted by local artist Jamie Calkin.  In addition to the water meter, Best in Festival and Best Overall films won cash prizes and may be shown in select movie theaters.

Drum Roll Please…   And the winners are:

Best in Festival:

Little Changes, by Hyacinth Empinado

Category K-5

Best Overall:

Lessons From Little Lily, by Ms. Criswell’s 1st grade Whit Davis Elementary Students

Best Conservation Message:

Super Soaker, by Cooper Allen & Holland Zwart, Barrow Elementary School, 5th grade

Best Production Quality:

Water Nightmare, by Cooper Allen, Salil Chalise, Jackson Davis, & Michael Rosch, Barrow Elementary School, 5th grade

Audience Choice Award:

A Journey to Find Water, by Joseph Essiful-Ansah, Mackenszie Howell, Madeline Randolph, & Alexander Sweet, Barrow Elementary School, 5th grade

Category Middle School

Best Overall:

Agent Conserving Water and the Case of the Neighborhood Polluters, by Colin Frick, Melanie Frick, Sachio Goodie, Tristan Lankford, and Klara Lankford, Hilsman Middle School, 7th grade

Best Conservation Message:

The Human Water Cycle, by Anna Gay, Clarke Middle School, 6th grade

Audience Choice Award:

A Water Drop in Time, by Josie Elliot, Paulina Ibanez, Madeline Ingle, Anna Frances Julian, Emerson Meyer, & Katie Grace Upchurch, Clarke Middle School, 7th grade

High School Division

Best Overall AND Audience Choice Award: 

20,000 Leaks Under the Sea, by Tyler Ortel, Oconee County High School, 11th grade

Best Conservation Message:

Tips for Drips, by Claudia Gaither & Serena Mon, Cedar Shoals High School, 11th grade

Adult Division

Best Overall:

Elio’s Trash Monster, by Bryan Redding

Best Conservation Message:

Know the Source, by David Diaz, Elizabeth Guinessey, & Jon Hallemaire

Audience Choice Award:

W.O.M.A.N., by Michael Baldwin from Bad/Seed, Inc.

Thank you to all of our wonderful filmmakers for making the Ripple Effect Film Project a valuable and entertaining evening.  To see all of the videos that made the finals, visit Lily Anne Phibian’s YouTube channel.

I look forward to next year!

Laurie

AthFest is so much Cooler when you recycle

AthFest is so much Cooler when you recycle

This week’s blog was written by Christina Abner, an intern at the WCO

It’s that time of year again where many Athenians and people from all over congregate for our local music festival “AthFest” and we will be there! The Water Conservation Office is participating in KidsFest where we will be making fun crafts that incorporate music and of course, Water!

If you would like more information about AthFest visit the link: http://athfest.com/

If you would like more information about AthFest visit the link: http://athfest.com/

So make sure to plan on joining us for one of the best events Athens has to offer

Water is not the first thing you think about when thinking of a music festival, but with a large number of people coming to Athens, it’s interesting to think of the logistics of it all. I know for a fact that AthFest and their crew are all about Recycling, but what about conserving water? I had the opportunity to speak with an AthFest representative, Jill Helme, and ask the cold watery facts about this beloved music festival.

When we asked Ms. Helme about ways they were conserving water at AthFest this year she mentioned that since it will be hot out there they will be using low-flow misters at KidsFest, and are going to try to use as little water as possible in other places around the festival. We hoped that there would be water bottle refilling stations for people who brought bottles but she said, “the city stopped letting us use fire hydrants to let people fill water bottles because they didn’t feel able to ensure the cleanliness of the line/pipes.”  As an alternative to this Athfest will be selling bottled water at the event and will have recycling and composting containers throughout the festival.

People at Athfest can save water by reusing those bottles and recycling them when they are done.

water recycle

Did you know it takes about 24 gallons of water to make one pound of plastic? That’s a lot of water! Recycled plastic requires less water to make water bottles, so “Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling” saves water too! In 2013 alone, the United States produced over 33 Million Tons of plastic and only 9% of it was recycled.  Here in Athens we can do a lot better! So this weekend reduce your water bottles by reusing them, and remember when you are done with them recycle!!! We have the power to leave a lasting mark on our community by simply making better choices today.

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We hope yall enjoy AthFest and remember to reuse and recycle your bottles this weekend.  Here are some useful last minute quick tips as it’s going to be a scorcher this weekend!

A couple last minute quick tips from the water conservation office:

  • We love our Puppy companions, but please do not let them come to AthFest!   It is hot, and their little paws will burn on the hot concrete and will be no doggie watering stations.
  • Wear sunscreen! It’s going to be hot, the sun dries out your skin and having a sunburn is never fun!
  • Avoid heat exhaustion, “Stay HYDRATED”, bring a reusable water bottle to refill so when the heat hits 90 degrees you’ll be ready!
  • One important reminder about Port-a-potties, they are not trash cans!  Remember your 4 P’s  because someone has to manually take out the trash from those things!

Have a great AthFest and stay cool!!  See you there!!!

Special Thanks to Jill Helme, Executive Director of AthFest Educates for taking the time to answer our questions!

More information about the Nonprofit event: http://athfest.com/

Take the Potty Pledge

This week’s blog was written by Emily Bilcik, a new intern at the WCO on a mission to stop flush offenders. 

PrintNews flash! Your toilet is not a dumping ground. Well… it’s not a trash can. Although it may be your “royal throne,” it does not possess the power to make your disposable products disappear for good. You and I know there is no magic behind that flush, so it’s about time we take a seat and pledge to ponder at our pots.

Think for a moment about all of the things you’ve flushed down the toilet today. Aside from the usual “business,” did you flush baby wipes? Makeup remover wipes? Paper towels? What about all of the things you’ve flushed in the past week or month? Cotton balls? Sanitary products? Floss?  How about tissues, food, or medications? These common household items are flushed down toilets every day. But where does all of our junk go when we trigger the mysterious flush?

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Flushable wipes and other paper products do not dissolve easily like toilet paper does. Break the habit and toss your paper instead of flushing it.

All toilets – along with sinks, showers, dishwashers, and washing machines – drain to the same pipelines, making a pit stop at your local wastewater reclamation facility to freshen up. This facility, also known as a sewage treatment plant, is designed to manage water, human waste, and toilet paper only. Once the facility “reclaims” our wastewater, it is delivered directly back into our rivers. However, the reclamation process is often interrupted by a number of household products that enter the sewage pipelines and treatment headworks.

When wastewater arrives at the water reclamation facility in its raw stage, it goes through filtration screens that capture large materials wrongfully flushed or drained down the pipes, such as plastic, food, and paper. Small, heavier particles, such as sand or clay, are removed through a grit filtering system. This machinery often gets clogged by excess waste, particularly by items that do not dissolve easily, like wipes, paper towels, and tissues. Want the latest scoop on “flushable” paper products? Check out this shocking video below.

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Gro$$! Your bathroom could be swimming in sewage if you flush wipes, tissues, tampons, or paper towels.

Wipes and stronger paper products are marketed by companies as “flushable,” however they block the flow of water through the treatment plant and become an expensive nuisance for the city and you. Even if product packaging claims “flushability,” our sanitation facilities can’t treat them. Yes, “flushable” items can technically be flushed down the toilet, but so can just about anything – like a toddler’s shoe for instance. “Flushable” products – like wipes, tissues, paper towels, and tampons- are not good for plumbing and can result in a costly and nasty back-flow of sewage into your own home!

Do your water reclamation facility and yourself a favor. Send your trash and other “flushable” products straight to the landfill instead of through the sewage pipes first. Misconceptions about improperly labeled items are widespread and growing. It is up to you and me to get the word out about “flushable” products. Most people who flush or drain the wrong things down are uninformed about the problems they cause.

Even I was unaware of “flushing etiquette” until I became an intern at the Athens Clarke County Water Conservation Office. I was once a flush offender. I mindlessly tossed my tissues and paper towels down the pipes. However, I was unaware that my actions caused a commotion down the drain. Now I’ve been warned and I’ve decided to commit to the “Potty Pledge,” promising to flush only the four P’s. The only things that pass through my pot are:

toiletnottrashcan

#1.  Pee

#2.  Poo

#3.  (toilet)Paper

#4.  Puke

These are the things our water reclamation facilities are built to handle and nothing more.

Improving our flushing practices is the most effective way to prevent costly problems associated with sewage backup and wastewater treatment inefficiency. Next time you flush, flush with confidence and knowledge. Share your understanding of “flushable” products with others to help keep our sanitary systems in check and the environment clean. Please don’t be a naughty flush offender anymore. Take the Potty Pledge today and become a sewer hero.

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Keep these items out of the pipes! Remember the four P’s you can flush. #PeePoo(toilet)PaperPuke

Water Conservation is a Real Pain

This week’s blog was written by Marilyn Hall, Water Conservation Coordinator for Athens-Clarke County.

I think it is gross to not flush the toilet every time. But, during a drought it is a sacrifice we call should make.

Water Conservation is Real Pain.

During drought-imposed outdoor watering restrictions, customers often complain to me that their plants are dying.  They are feeling the real pain of conservation measures. The role of water conservation is to manage water use in the short term during a drought and there can be a corresponding loss of productivity or quality of life, a.k.a. “pain”.   Many people endure the pain and make an extra effort to shower less often or only flush when necessary.  Such behavior changes are an important part of reducing water use during a drought or water shortage.

There can also be temporary institutional changes in priorities and policies.  For example, my daughter’s school conserved water during the 2007-2008 drought by switching to disposable forks, plates, and trays.  They balanced the need for waste reduction with the need for water conservation.  Since it was a drought emergency, it made sense to switch to disposables to save water.  This example of conservation was not very painful.

save water and money; october 2006

Saving water saves money. Conservation measures such as installing WaterSense Fixtures and Appliances, replacing turfgrass with water-efficient plants, and making small behavior changes lead to long-term water efficiency. The savings add up.

Water Conservation is the Gateway to Efficiency.

More and more of the “temporary” and least painful conservation measures that are implemented during water shortages are becoming permanent.  When an industry changes its processes in response to a drought mandate, those changes tend to be permanent.  If overall production is the same and uses less water, why change back?  The industry is saving money on its water bill and becoming more efficient.

Short term, emergency conservation measures lead to long term efficiency.  Remember my daughter’s school?  It turns out that they saved money when they switched to disposables, so they never went back to the reusable plates, forks, and trays.  (This does not bode well for our landfill space, but that is a topic for another blog.)  Conservation is a gateway to efficiency.  This is evident at the industries who change their processes, my daughter’s school, and the home where turfgrass is replaced with a watersmart landscape.

Efficiency is Making our Drought Plan a Real Pain. 

Conservation leads to long term resource investment in efficient technology.  This pleases my inner-technogeek, but scares me as I work to revise our drought plan.  As it is now, our drought plan depends on our ability to reduce water demand during a drought.  A decade ago we could call on our community to reduce their water use by 20% or so with outdoor watering restrictions.  Now, their gardening and landscaping activities don’t use nearly as much water.  We estimate that a total outdoor watering ban would reduce our demand by less than 10%.  That is an extremely painful way to reduce water use by just a small amount.  What do we do when the state or other entity tells us to reduce water use by more?  Right now our residential daily water demand is about 40 gallons per day per person.  How low can we go?  

Take Responsibility.

Technological improvements will continue to lower each person’s demand for water.  At some point, it will become nearly impossible to reduce demand with temporary conservation measures and behavior changes.  Utilities are already looking at reusing water, improving system efficiency, desalination, and a multitude of other strategies for improving efficiency and finding additional sources.  Although utilities are doing all they can, I believe everyone should take responsibility for the long term sustainability of our water supplies.

The future of drought preparedness is not in painful, mandatory % reductions:  It is in drought resiliency all the time.  A more broad approach needs to be taken.  Water-saving codes and ordinances mandating efficiency in landscaping, fixtures, hvac, etc. are already on the books in many places.  Those codes are the easy part. Our built environment needs to change to be more water smart. There are many, many studies showing how the built environment affects water supplies.  For example,  higher housing density can reduce water use and green infrastructure can protect water supplies.  The long term sustainability of our water supply hinges on the relationship between how we live and our water consumption.

We cannot put this off.

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Athens-Clarke County is taking steps to plan for  sustainable water resources.  The County has been recognized as a Water First Community for taking a collaborative approach to water planning.

Changes related to land use or water infrastructure take decades to implement and needs to be incorporated into infrastructure planning.  Land development standards, comprehensive plans, codes and zoning ordinances, water offset programs, collaborative regional plans, and public engagement all play important roles in creating sustainable development, resulting in more sustainable water use and resilience to the impacts of drought.

Implementing water-sustaining plans and infrastructure can reduce the real pain of short term conservation measures. Soon it will be time for Athens-Clarke County to update its Comprehensive Plan.  This extensive planning effort provides the perfect opportunity to work on creating a sustainable future for water resources.  If we don’t get started soon, the real pain of water conservation measures may be more than we can handle.