Athens is the #6 Best Place to Live in America because of the Certified Blue Program

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

Athens was just ranked #6 on Outside Magazine’s Best Places to Live list.  I am not surprised by this.  After all, we have great mountain biking, kayaking, and hiking, plus a community ethos of outdoor stewardship.  Yet, except for a nod to our road biking scene, Outside’s ranking didn’t say anything about these things.  Athens was chosen because of fluffy biscuits, vegan salchipapas, and Bourbon.

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Staff at the National proudly wear “Conserve: WATER u waiting 4” shirts during a busy lunch hour to promote conservation.

Two of the six spots that Outside uses for our #6 ranking are Certified Blue:  The National and Hi-Lo Lounge.  These places were chosen because of their great food, drinks, and unique Athens vibe.*   Outside didn’t mention vibe, but if you visit the National and Hi-Lo you know exactly what I am talking about.  They are locally owned and uniquely Athenian and go out of their way to support the efforts of local organizations, including the Water Conservation Office.  They use water efficiently and educate their staff and customers about water conservation.  All of our Certified Blue Restaurants and Bars do this, even the big chains.  For example, Outback Steakhouse uses our educational materials and Papa Johns lets us attach conservation messages to their delivery boxes.  All Blue restaurants and bars have gone through a Water Use Assessment, repaired leaks, and have retrofitted inefficient fixtures.

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Jon, co-owner of the Hi-Lo Lounge accepts the Certified Blue certificate during an event. The Hi-Lo was one of the first Certified Blue restaurants.

Outside didn’t just choose these places because of their great food. They chose them because of a unique Athens vibe that includes conservation and community involvement.  Congratulations Athens, the National, Hi-Lo Lounge, and Certified Blue for getting our town recognized.  Athens deserves it!

Visit any of the Certified Blue Restaurants listed here for a meal or drink prepared by a great conservation partner.

*BTW, the other 4 places mentioned by Outside Magazine serve good food, are locally owned, and have a nice Athens vibe too.  They are great candidates for the Certified Blue Program.  They should sign up!

ECOnomics for Household Cleaning

This week’s blog was written by WCO intern, Emily Bilcik.

When it comes to saving a buck at the grocery store, I give it my all. I tailor my recipes to the weekly sale paper items and shop for all my household needs with coupons and other special savings. I feel like a pro when I glance toward the bottom of my receipt and read my hefty savings balance for the day, “Your total savings in coupons and sales = $36!” As I proudly put my discounted laundry detergent, dishwasher soap, and all-purpose cleaner away under the sink, I can’t help but notice how crowded my cabinet has gotten with various household cleaning products. Household-CleanersI wonder how much money I’ve spent on the lot and consider how harmful these products might be to my health and the water supply once I rinse them down a drain. After contemplating the many disadvantages of buying typically expensive and harsh chemicals, I begin my search online for a natural, cost efficient, and ecofriendly house cleaning regimen.

Cheap, Safe, Simple: This Is How We Do It 

Browsing the internet for just two minutes provided me with everything I needed: hundreds of how-to tutorials on concocting homemade cleaning products! Little did I know, a combination of just a few common household products can tackle almost any cleaning task at the fraction of the cost of name brand cleaning products.  Most homemade cleaning products contain the same key ingredients which most people have in stock at home: white vinegar, baking soda, rubbing alcohol, dish soap, lemons, salt, and essential oils. Each of these goods are gentle and have disinfecting, whitening, stain removing, or deodorizing properties which make them great for cleaning any mess. Whipping up a batch of all-purpose cleaner can be as simple as mixing together 1/2 cup warm water, 1/2 cup vinegar, and 2 tbsp. lemon juice! These ingredients are perfect for making inexpensive, ecofriendly glass cleaners, stain removers, disinfectant sprays, carpet deodorizers, and so much more. The best things about making natural cleaning products is that they are harmless to use and can safely be rinsed down the sink, tub, or toilet unlike the chemically harsh products you purchase at the store.

products_cautionMost cleaning products you’ll find at the market contain chlorine bleach, ammonia, or other severe chemicals and are adorned in labels asserting one or more of these alarming messages: “DANGER, WARNING, CAUTION, FUMES, CAUSTIC, or IRRITANT.” Why on earth do I put these hazardous products in my shopping cart month after month even though I know I’ll need to hold my breath and protect my skin from potential chemical damage when I use them? If the chemicals are harmful to me and you, then obviously they’ll be harmful to the environment when we wash them down our drains! These chemicals are extremely difficult to remove from the water supply and have adverse effects on life despite their disinfecting properties. Do your part to protect our health and our clean water by skipping the cleaning product aisle at the grocery store. Homemade cleaning products mitigate harmful health effects while also saving you money!

Things To Keep In Mind

Green and thrifty cleaning product recipes are available all over the internet. Take advantage of Lily Anne Phibian’s ECOnomics for Household Cleaning board on Pinterest and find over 80 cost effective and safe cleaning solutions for your home. As you read about the endless opportunities homemade cleaning products provide, keep these four important things in mind:

  1. Several recipes for green cleaning call for essential oils as ingredients to provide pleasant scents to your products. Avoid adding essential oils to the types of products you rinse down drains after application. Some essential oils solidify when exposed to low temperatures and will therefore cause a FOG CLOG in the pipes when it gets cold out! Instead of mixing in essential oils, infuse your cleaning products with rosemary sprigs or lemons.
  2. Lots of ecofriendly cleaning tips make use of citrus peels as a natural deodorizer. Citrus works wonders in freshening up a stinky situation, but you should never send citrus peels down the drain (not even to freshen the garbage disposal). The peels will cause problems at your local water reclamation facility if they don’t get caught up in a sewer FOG CLOG first. Click here to find out the only things that should ever go down a drain in your home!
  3. If you truly want to be ecofriendly and cost efficient in your home cleaning efforts, only follow cleaning product recipes that call for gentle household ingredients. You may come across blog posts suggesting the use of bleach or ammonia in addition to mild ingredients, but play it smart and choose a different recipe to follow instead. There are plenty out there.
  4. If you want to dispose of your old cleaning products to make room for the new and improved, read these handy tips. Never throw hazardous cleaners in the landfill and never pour them down the drain, toilet, or in the gutters.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to follow Lily Anne Phibian on Pinterest to find her simple, ecofriendly, and cost effective recipes for green cleaning products!

6 Reasons to Give Tours of Water Reclamation Facilities

This week’s blog is written by Laurie Loftin, a frequent docent of our fecal galleries

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Show off all things shiny at your water reclamation facility. These help to keep foul odors away.

Raw sewage.  Wastewater.  Septic tank sludge.  I admit, not one of these words gets me very excited, much less makes
me want to go and look at this…stuff.  However, I invite people at least once a quarter to come and do just that with a visit to a site full of this “product”.  And every time I put out an open invitation, a group of folk signs up to come look, listen, and smell.

I work for a public utility department responsible for managing three water reclamation facilities.  Each location has dedicated workers who question the sanity of those who want to come for a tour.  I can’t answer why people want to visit, but I can give reasons as to why we, as a utility, should continue to invite them as a guest.

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This group not only supported a good cause with their visit, but said they found the tour very educational and interesting.

1.  The public asks to come.  Really!  They do!  We offer educational opportunities to college students in engineering, science education, environmental design, and other water studies.  Elementary teachers introduce their students to the beneficial side of decomposers and microorganisms in action.  Parents can show their curious child what happens to the water (or toy, money, jewelry, etc.) after it goes down the drain or toilet.  Couples create lasting and romantic memories while on a Valentine’s Day tour.  This week we will host a group participating in a charity event called, “The World’s Largest and Greatest Scavenger Hunt the World has Ever Seen“.  They need to visit a wastewater facility in formal wear and take a photo of one of them playing a flute.  (As I said, I can’t answer why they want to come.  Who could ever see this coming as a reason?)

2. The Environmental Protection Division “suggests” it, so I guess you could say we are required to give tours.  In Georgia, we must fill out an annual report to keep our permit.  The report includes a section entitled, “Summary of Public Participation Activities”. Tours fall into this category and are one way to help us complete this specific requirement.

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Everyone will always need water and create wastewater. What other field provides as much job security as water? Apply today!

3.  Allows for recruitment.  Many of today’s operators are reaching an age when retirement starts to look pretty enticing. With computers as the competition, the younger generation isn’t necessarily moving in to quickly fill these openings.  A visit to the world of wastewater introduces students to career options they may never have considered.  On several occasions, after a tour with an animated and excited operator, children have told me “this is where I am going to work one day.”  The older college students inquire about internship opportunities. The engineering students learn how to design a WRF and may decide to pursue water infrastructure as their specialty after seeing firsthand the operations of such a facility.

4.  Provides you with a captive audience.  Take this time to educate your visitors about the proper disposal of FOG, the history of wastewater treatment, and the 4 P’s of flushing.  Show a display of containers holding wipes, toilet paper, and paper towels submerged in water.  This visual effectively illustrates the incredible durability of a premoistened wipe and results in amazed looks and comments from your gathering.  Explain how using water efficiently reduces the wear and tear on the parts of a WRF, thus lessening the need to replace parts and helps to keep their bills lower.  Once in this industry, much of this information is common sense; to the public, it is all brand new and valuable knowledge.

5.  Brings the hidden infrastructure above ground.  How many miles of water pipes are under the ground in your city?  Athens, GA has almost 800 miles.  If laid end to end, these pipes would reach to New York City.  We have an additional 500 miles in sewer pipes.  This distance would take you to the Magical Kingdom in Orlando, FL.  People rarely give much thought to the amount of  infrastructure necessary to carry out our basic daily needs.  With pipes across the nation reaching the end of their useful life, the time for replacement is near and the cost for this undertaking will be enormous.  Tours offer a chance to enlighten and remind guests of the importance of our water systems.  They gain a small insight into what it takes to provide reliable wastewater service.

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Smiling faces, past and present, who keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful.

6.  Gives a face to our workers.  Tours remind the public there are real people working at the other end of the pipes.  Their wastewater doesn’t automagically clean itself before entering back into our water resources.  Someone is there to remove, by hand if necessary, the “flushable” items put down the toilet 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  Hopefully, this encounter with a smiling face encourages our guests to think both at the sink and before they flush.  We are waiting at the other end.

Tours are not going to change the essence of what our facility does. Let’s face it.  We still are associated with sewage and sludge.  What a tour can do is remind the public how vital wastewater services are to our economy, the environment, and public health.  They offer us a chance to change public perception.  People are welcome and expected to arrive at our locations saying “Ewww.”  But when they leave, I want them saying “Aaah.”

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