#pottyofgold Number One Winner!

This week’s post was written by WCO graduate assistant Lily Cason.

From the thousands who made an entry (har har har) into our #pottyofgold contest, only one winner will emerge.

potty of gold sample entry

One of our #pottyofgold entries

The Athens-Clarke County Water Conservation Office (ACC WCO) decorated a select few bathrooms in Certified Blue businesses  around town. Lucky citizens of Athens who found a “potty of gold” could enter the contest by sharing a picture of the decorations through social media with the hashtag #pottyofgold.  The prizes at stake were a $50 gift certificate to the winner’s chosen Certified Blue business or $150 towards a WaterSense labeled toilet.

Watch our video to find out who is the Number One Winner (but not that kind of number one!).




FALW_infographic_ten_thousandThe WCO held this St. Patrick ’s Day themed contest in an effort to spread the word about the thousands of gallons of water wasted each year by easily fixable household leaks.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “minor water leaks account for more than 1 trillion gallons of water wasted each year in U.S. homes.” The EPA’s WaterSense program promotes Fix a Leak Week the third week of March each year to raise awareness about this issue.  Common types of leaks found in the home include worn toilet flappers, dripping faucets, and leaking showerheads. Take this as a reminder to spend a few minutes checking plumbing fixtures and outdoor irrigation systems forNAPS_ad_jw leaks.  Taking ten minutes to check these things could save you 10% off of your water bill!

For more information about common household leaks and how to fix them check out the EPA WaterSense website: http://www.epa.gov/watersense/our_water/fix_a_leak.html



The Cost of Water

This week’s post was written by WCO intern Laura Keys.

We only pay for beer

William Murphy, flickr

Watching the news this past week, my eye was captured by a major change taking place in Ireland. Up until now, Ireland’s water users have been getting their water for free (covered by general taxes), but to raise money to maintain its aging infrastructure, Ireland has started rolling out water meters and plans to charge users based on the volume of water they use. Understandably, many Irish are distressed at this change, and some have taken to the streets in protest with such catchy slogans as “We don’t pay for water, we only pay for beer.”

This slogan gave me pause, and I thought about how happily we purchase such beverages as beer, soda, and bottled water and how unhappily we gripe about paying for treated tap water. Many people argue that water should be free; it is one of the few things necessary for survival, after all, so they make a good point. However, when you look at the cost of tap water versus these other drinkable liquids, it almost seems laughable to complain about the costs.

This past month, my household used a little over 4,000 gallons of water, giving us a water bill of around $20. Here’s a comparison of what some other liquids would cost in that same quantity:


Okay, so we use tap water for a lot more than just quenching our thirst, but the point still stands that tap water is ridiculously cheap compared to just about anything else around. It would be a better deal to reverse the Irish slogan: pay for water and get the rest for free!

fixing leaks

The danger in having such low prices on water is that there’s often little encouragement to curb water use and conserve. Sometimes people only discover leaks around the house after their water bill skyrockets to $200, when tens of thousands of gallons of water have already been wasted. With Spring having arrived in Athens, now is a good time to consider your own water use. Check your toilets and pipes for leaks, install low-flow showerheads and faucets, hook up a rain barrel to your gutters, and consider a drip irrigation system for your garden. Not only will you help conserve water, but you’ll help cut the cost of your water bill even further. For more information, contact your friendly Water Conservation Office!

How to Find a Pot of Gold

This week’s blog post is from Laurie Loftin, who has never found the end of a rainbow.

Most everyone knows the legend.  Reach the end of a rainbow and you find a pot of gold for the taking.  Of course, nothing is quite this easy.  You must sneak past the tricky leprechaun left to guard the gold.  These little guys don’t want their treasure taken away.  As soon as you are spotted, they vanish with the pot of gold.

potty of gold

Find a Potty o’ Gold during       Fix a Leak Week!                       Visit Certified Blue restaurants to find the hidden potties o’ gold. Share a photo with us using #pottyofgold on FB and Instagram (tag lilyannephibian) or Twitter (tag ACCWaterWarrior) to be entered into a drawing for either a $50 gift card to a Certified Blue restaurant or $150 towards a new WaterSense labeled toilet.

I propose an easier way to discover a hidden pot of gold.  You see this pot every day.  No, it isn’t at the end of a rainbow, though it is often at an end.  Your tail end.  I am talking about a potty.  A potty o’ gold.

When was the last time you checked your potty for a leak?  A toilet leak can come in many forms.  It can be a constant and annoying running of the commode.  Maybe you hear what is known as a “phantom flush,” when your toilet refills itself as if it has been flushed.  Or perhaps you have the sneakiest leak of all – the silent leak.

No matter what type of toilet leak you have, you need to get it fixed.  And the sooner the better.  A running toilet can waste up to 200 gallons of water a day.  This water loss has a very noticeable and painful effect on your water bill.

Let me give you the best case scenario for the impact a running toilet has on your wallet.  Your loo is leaking 200 gallons of water a day.  As it tends to do, life gets in the way and you put off fixing your running toilet for a month.  After 30 days you have let 6,000 gallons of clean, treated water wash away.

We have a tiered billing system in Athens-Clarke County.  In this pricing system, water used within the first tier is the least expensive.  As water use increases and passes the limits of the first tier, the additional water use is charged at a higher rate.

IF your water use stays within Tier 1, the month-long 200 gallons a day toilet leak would add $24 to your water bill.  Here is the math:

ACC Tier 1 cost for 1 gallon of water = $.004

$.004 per gallon x 200 gallons = $.80 a day

$.80 a day x 30 days in a month = $24 extra on your water bill

Again, $24 is the best case scenario.  If you are using an extra 6,000 gallons of water a month, you are more than likely going to find yourself splashing around in higher tiers.  Here is the math for a worse case scenario:

ACC Tier 4 cost for 1 gallon of water = $.01

$.01 per gallon x 200 gallons = $2.00 a day

$2.00 a day x 30 days in a month = $60.00 extra on your water bill

I consider finding $60 a large pot of gold.FALW_full_logo_2015

The week of March 16-22, 2015 is Fix a Leak Week.  Promoted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program, the week is a reminder to check your plumbing and irrigation systems for leaks.  “Ten percent of homes have leaks that waste 90 gallons or more per day,” according to WaterSense.

Take some time during Fix a Leak Week to find and fix any leaks, including toilet leaks, in your home.  You won’t have a rainbow leading you to your leaky toilet, but there are many videos online that show you how to locate and fix leaks.  The best news is there shouldn’t be any pesky leprechauns lurking about in your bathroom to prevent you from finding your own potty o’ gold.



There’s No Business Like Snow Business

This blog post brought to you by WCO intern Laura Keys, who has not built a snowman during the 2014-2015 school year.

Like many of my fellow Athenians, I awoke this past Thursday and excitedly looked out the window to see how many inches of snow we had received. Weather forecasts had shown Athens receiving a potential 1-3 inches during the night, and students across the city awaited with bated breath for word of school closures and delays. So did it snow in Athens?

The view from my window agreed with the forecast from local website “Is It Snowing In Athens?” (http://isitsnowinginathens.com). The answer: a resounding no.

School and work continued as usual in Athens that day, much to the disappointment of many, and Athens was spared from a repeat of 2014’s Snowpocalypse that shut down operations for several days. While Athens’ economy is certainly not dependent on the presence of snow (and in fact, probably fares much worse when there -is- snow), many places in the world actually rely on snow to get their annual water and business needs met.

Measuring snow depth in California

Case 1: the entire state of California, the largest economy in the US. California is in a dire drought, with no foreseeable end in sight. Much of their water supply needs are met by snowpacks in the surrounding mountain ranges such as the Sierra Nevada, where snow falls during the winter and melts in the spring to supply cities that need the water. Snow levels have been much lower over the past few years, and that signals big trouble for California, whose GDP rivals that of Canada, Italy, or India. Californians definitely have room to complain about a lack of snow.

Skiing at Lake Lucerne

Case 2: Switzerland and mountainous European countries. Winter in Switzerland, Austria, and other Alpine nations is marked by outdoor recreation in the snow, particularly skiing. Skiing is a huge part of the winter economy, with families traveling by train to stay in resorts, rent skis, eat meals in restaurants, and generally spend money. Over the past several decades, precipitation has decreased in Switzerland by upwards of 60% in some areas, and that translates into serious economic losses due to a shorter skiing season. The Swiss are understandably distressed about missing out on snow.

Baikal seal pup in its den

Case 3: Baikal seals. Lake Baikal is the largest lake in the world, located in Siberia, and is home to the endemic Baikal seal. Snow in autumn provides habitat for these seals: a mother seal digs a den in the ice and snow in which to raise her pups. In spring when the ice melts, the den collapses, and the seals venture out into the world on their own. Snow is crucial for the life cycle of Baikal seals, so a lack of snowfall could be disastrous for the lake ecosystem.

In short, we Athenians aren’t going to suffer immense monetary or water supply shortfalls due to a lack of snow, but it is a nice departure from the norm to have some. Even those who hate snow can revel in the fact that when we do get snow, it doesn’t stick around forever; your bread and toilet paper supplies will last until the snow has melted away.

15 Ways a Water Utility can Dive into Social Media

This week’s blog is from Laurie Loftin, program specialist with the ACC Water Conservation Office.

Have you been thinking about dipping your toes into social media but still haven’t taken the plunge?

flu shot

Don’t let the fear of a flu shot keep you from using social media.

A water utility deciding whether or not to use social media is similar to going in for a flu shot.  Your rational brain knows the flu shot is beneficial for your long-term health, but you drag your feet walking into the doctor’s office.  You fear the pain of the needle, dread the lingering soreness in your arm, and worry about the possible negative side effects.

Content creation is the social media equivalent to the flu shot.  You know social media offers you an enormous opportunity to building a healthy relationship with your customers, just like a flu shot prevents the flu all season.  But the burden of having to create continuous and engaging content can linger like the painful memory of  a needle stick.

Assuming you got the flu shot, you know it wasn’t that bad after all.  Content creation for your social media sites can be the same way.  To ease the pain and anxiety, here are a few ideas to get you started creating content.

1.  Organize your outreach calendar.  Start your efforts  by creating a social media calendar to compliment your outreach plan.  A good social media strategy helps you determine your goals, organize your outreach tactics, and create content.  Doing this step makes social media less daunting and gives your utility more direction.  For more on this, check out the wonderful book Content Rules, by Ann Handley & C.C. Chapman.

Screenshot 2015-02-17 13.15.50

Monitor posts by others and create a response to address their concerns.

2.  Give real-time information and warnings about water main breaks, boil water alerts, or weather related emergencies.   You can also look on Twitter for postings from your customers about breaks or other issues, possibly allowing you to get to a problem quicker than before.

3.  Brag on your employees and boost morale.  Our water and wastewater workers are a vital part of our community, but these men and women are often taken for granted.  Post photos of them at work on Facebook and Instagram.  Have the employees submit on the job selfies. This helps the community understand what the utility worker does behind the scenes.

4.  Engage in conversation with customers.  Use social media to speak directly to your customer base.  Explain upcoming utility changes before they happen.  Share tips on how to prevent frozen pipes.  Worried about negative comments?  See this public feedback as an opportunity to address the problem and make it right.

5.  Share videos.  Find something really disgusting in a sewer line?  Share a video of the yuck being removed on You Tube or Vine, then use this as an opportunity to educate your audience of proper waste disposal.  Post links to videos explaining how to check the house for leaks on Twitter.  If sharing videos made by others, remember to watch the entire video  for appropriateness before posting!

6.  Publicize upcoming events.  Have a great toilet repair workshop in the near future?  Boost attendance through your social media outlets.  Create a Facebook event page and send reminders on Twitter. Provide links to online registration forms and additional information. Take pictures during the event and share in a photo album on Facebook.

WaterSense Award

You work hard. Let others know how much you care about our water!

7.  Establish yourself as an expert in your field.  Write blogs, answer questions posted by your audience, or post on Linkedin message boards in a knowledgeable, thoughtful, and professional manner.  Do this consistently throughout the year and you become the trusted expert your customers turn to in an emergency or drought.

8.  Attaboys!  Did you recently win an award for your drinking water quality?  Do you have a drinking water treatment operator  working at your facility named the best in the state?  Brag about your accomplishments!  Share a photo of the trophy on Instagram.  Write a brief bio and snap an image of the operator for Facebook.

9.  Share your Consumer Confidence Report, or Drinking Water Quality Report, with your customers through links on Twitter or Facebook.  You need to share this with the public anyway, so why not add this to your list of distribution methods?

10.  Highlight local businesses.  Do you know of a business who has made great strides in water efficiency?  Recognize their efforts through photos and words.  Take a photo inside the location and ask your audience to guess which local business updated their toilets.  Have a drawing of the entrants and give a prize.  Add this business to a board of Water Warriors on Pinterest by including an image, brief description, and link to the business.

50 Shades of Brown

Find what is trending & use it as a springboard when creating interesting content.

11.  Create targeted messages utilizing your smart meter analytics.  With the data collected from a smart meter, you can target particular groups with community based social marketing messages to change social norms.  For example, let a specific neighborhood know that “75% of the people in your neighborhood reduced their water use from the month before.  Keep up the good work!”

12.  Stay with the current!  Look for what is trending on Twitter, BuzzFeed, or other sites and incorporate it into your content.  For example, 50 Shades of Gray was trending, so a tour of a water reclamation facility is a perfect place to promote 50 Shades of Brown.

13.  Post images and infographics.  Add posts with an image to increase engagement.  Capture a pretty sunset over an aeration basin?  Find an easy to understand inforgraphic about World Toilet Day?  Share the image with a creative and brief caption or text.  This easy content builder works well on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

14.  Share articles, posts, and blogs from other experts.  Stay up to date and keep learning about the water field by reading blog postings and articles by others.  Did you learn something new?  See something another utility posted?  (Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District has great content!)   Share it with your readers!  You can also take a moment to post comments and questions to the author.  Linkedin is a good place to find articles and create discussion.

15.  Ask your audience what they want from you.  When in doubt, go to the source.  We can only pretend to know exactly what our customers find helpful.  Ask your followers what they would like to see you share.  Examine your analytics to determine which posts received the most view, shares, likes, and comments, then do more of it.

Using social media is an inexpensive way to conduct outreach, but it can cost time.  Develop an organized plan of action and content creation becomes much easier.  You can even do it from your phone while waiting for your flu vaccine.  Just do it.



Are we following in the Footsteps of Mesopotamia the Ancient Mayans?

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

hydroillogical cycle

Here is the graphic for the Hydro-Illogical Cycle created in the 1990s.

Way back in the late 1990s the National Drought Mitigation Center created the “Hydro-Illogical Cycle”. It is a cute play on words from the water cycle that we all learned about in elementary school. The graphic shows how drought tends to emerge under the radar screen compared to other natural disasters.  In other words, tornadoes and tidal waves are more exciting to watch on YouTube that a developing drought. It is hard to even know when a drought begins and when it ends.  But when drought does finally end, people are often glad to forget about it and to resume business as usual. (Of course this is true of most natural disasters.)

The purpose of the graphic is to remind us that severe drought can sneak up on us at any time, so we need to think about drought preparation when we aren’t currently in a drought. People all over the globe have been suffering from the Apathy-Panic cycle for millenniums.  Here are a couple of examples.

Picture of a Cichlid school, Mystic Pool, Cara Blanca Pools, Belize

Cichlids swim in pool where ancient Mayans made sacrifices to their water god.

1) A “Mayan Drought Cult” developed after the Mayan’s suffered many years of drought.  Human sacrifices to Chaak, the Mayan water god, picked up after things started looking especially bleak.  Unfortunately for the Mayans it was too little too late.

2)  A New York Times from 1993 linked the demise of an ancient Mesopotamian empire to an unrelenting 300 year drought. Scientists were saying that it was “probably the first abrupt climate change in recorded history that caused major social upheaval…it raises some interesting questions about how volatile climate conditions can be and how well civilizations can adapt to abrupt crop failures.”

It took thousands of years for us to come up with the clever “hydro-illogical” graphic shown above.  I am ashamed to say that I have not thought about or presented the “Hydro-Illogical Cycle” in years.  In fact, I have not shown it during a presentation since the last big drought!

According to the graphic we are lucky to be napping happily in the Apathy stage here in Athens, GA. However, if you look at the National Drought Monitor many of the states out west are not so lucky. (I wonder who answers the phone when the little guy dials 911?) Here in Athens we are “between droughts” right now and the next one may be right around the corner. What can you do to avoid the panic?  Go to ThinkattheSink.com and learn about our upcoming workshops and sign up for our email list.  The Athens-Clarke County Water Conservation Office is working to make our County resilient to drought.  Contact us to find out how you can help!

Updating my showerhead: a review

This week’s blog post was written by WCO intern Laura Keys.

This past October the Athens-Clarke County Water Conservation Office gave away 500 low-flow showerheads. On numerous occasions as I was handing them out, the recipient would ask me, “So have you used one? How are they?” I would sheepishly admit that I had not, in fact, tried them yet but had heard good things about them.

The WCO is poised to do another even bigger showerhead giveaway, and I figured it was time to sample the wares so I could give people my informed opinion. So here are the details of my experience with a new low-flow showerhead: the chrome-finished Niagara Sava Spa 2515 showerhead.

Not how I want my shower to feel.

Before I removed my old showerhead, I measured how much water was actually flowing out of it. I was surprised to measure 3.5 gallons per minute (gpm) because it was rated at a maximum flow of 2.5 gpm!! In the past we never turned the shower on fully because it felt like we were being blasted by a firehose, and now I understand why.

Using a set of pliers, I twisted off the old showerhead and removed the rubber washer, which was covered in black grime and might not have been seated correctly against the showerhead. (I don’t know why the showerhead produced more flow than it was rated for, but several generations of rental house neglect probably didn’t help.)

Then I installed the new showerhead, twisting it into place by hand and giving it an extra quarter twist using pliers. (Using small pliers scuffed up the finish a little bit. A big wrench probably would have been better, oops.) I measured the flow out of it and saw that it was hitting a perfect 1.5 gpm, as it should have been.

The final task was to actually try it out. When I first turned the shower on to its maximum flow, it was sort of a weird sensation… a nice full spray, but with a much lighter feel. As soon as my hair was fully wet, I didn’t notice a difference anymore, and shampooing/conditioning my hair took the same time as usual. So it was a pretty quick adjustment period. Another pretty sweet advantage: my shower usually lasts under 10 minutes, but I often run out of hot water before then because our water heater is teeny-tiny. Besides saving water and money on my shower, I didn’t run out of hot water because less was being used in the same period of time!

This new showerhead will be a big money-saver, too. It retails for around $10, though I used it for free. (My old showerhead was free since it came with the house, so no difference there.) But here’s the water cost-savings for the next year: assuming eight 8-minute showers a week from my household for 50 weeks of the year, the cost of water would be $23.23. With my old showerhead, running it fully would cost $54.21, and partly running it at 2.5gpm would cost $38.72.

So I call this new showerhead a total victory. Sleek appearance? Check. Good water pressure? Check. Hot showers? Check. Saving money? Check. Saving water? Double-check. Stay tuned for the next showerhead giveaway!