Yard Art that Rocks

Yard Art that Rocks

ladybugKeeping your garden lively can be tricky, especially as the seasons change. At this time of year, summer annuals are dying off, insects are eating your veggies, and wildlife sightings may be dwindling in your very own yard. Even though weather conditions are getting colder, have no fear; you can create life in your garden without expending a drop of water! To animate your patio, porch, or pathway garden, make yard art that rocks.

Painting the Perfect Landscape

With painted stones, your options for a lively landscape are limitless. Wish you could see more animals in the backyard? Paint a native turtle or frog on a pebble, and place him comfortably in your dormant flowerbed. Is it too cold for your koi fish in the pond? Devise an optical illusion and paint a rock to plop into your fountain for a realistic effect. Do you prefer pansies year round? Try arranging a few of your pretty painted gems in an outdoor planter pot!


Bringing Your Rockin Canvas Inside

Don’t have a green thumb, but want to enjoy plants indoors? Paint a series of no-maintenance stone cacti to display as windowsill decor or a table centerpiece. The videos below can guide you through the water-less process of growing a new cactus.

Painting Not for You?

Try transferable images! This simple procedure produces results that your friends and neighbors will be raving about all year long. You’ll need to make a trip to the craft store to pick up your choice of transferable images, as well as a clear coat paint to secure the illustration onto your flat rock. And the best part is….no water necessary!

butterfly bird

The Artful Life

Think outside of the watering can! Spruce up your garden with some of the examples above and let your creative juices flow by taking a glimpse at my Pinterest board below. Before you know it, your garden will have a themed set of painted pebbles for every month! Just remember: Bringing life to the garden doesn’t always require water.

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

How to Make Perfect Bacon & Protect the Sewers

This week’s blog is from Laurie Loftin, a conflicted eater

bacon wallet

 This wallet would make        me hungry.

After years of avoiding the traditional, best-known meats (think pork, beef, and poultry), I decided I could no longer withstand the calling of bacon*.  If you have ever smelled bacon cooking, you grasp the “why” of this decision. I resolved to add this meat candy back into the rotation of my potential menu selections circa 2005.  Note that this was just before the boom in the bacon craze, which has brought us such novelty items as  bacon band-aids, bacon ties, bacon toothpaste, and bacon incense.

I do want to clarify something very important.  I won’t eat just any bacon.  It has to be crispy.  And I mean CRISPY.  If you drop it on the floor, it should break.  If it droops in the middle when you hold it, send it back for more cooking – it is raw.

I recently discovered The Perfect Way to Cook Crispy Bacon (TPW2CCB).  An added bonus is that this method makes clean-up a cinch, but we will get to that…

TPW2CCB “Recipe”

What you need for this recipe

All you need.

What You Need:

  • 1 pack of bacon in your preferred cut, smokiness, and sodium level
  • Parchment Paper
  • Baking Dish
  • Paper Towels


  1. Pre-heat your oven to 400°F.  I am sure if you found this blog, you know how to turn on your oven and adjust the racks as needed.  Do it just like that.
  2. Line your baking dish with parchment paper.  Use enough to cover up the sides, too.


       Parchment paper is vital for easy clean up.

  3. Lay bacon on parchment paper in a single layer.  I fold mine in half. No particular reason other than I can fit more bacon in at one time.
  4. Bake the bacon.  Put it in the oven and let it cook for at least thirty minutes, turning it over half way through cooking time.  Depending on your desired crispiness level, you can pull it out now or let it cook a little longer.  I usually go another 5 – 10 minutes. JUST BE CAREFUL!  You can quickly go from melt-in-your-mouth perfection to burnt ash.


         Delectable, juicy, crispy      bacon that is hard to resist.

  5. Remove bacon from baking dish with tongs or fork (I know it looks good, but DO NOT USE YOUR FINGERS!).  Set it on layered paper towels to absorb the excess bacon juice.
  6. Eat your delicious, juicy, crispy, perfect bacon and enjoy.


Now here is the best part.  Do nothing but digest your bacon for several hours, then come back to the mess.  When you return you will find the bacon grease has automagically turned from a messy, sewer harming liquid into an easy to dispose of solid.  Lift the grease laden parchment paper from the pan and easily dispose of it in the trash. With any luck,  your dish is still clean and you can get away without washing it.  (But that is me being lazy and I only offer this only as a suggestion.   Do not hold me responsible if you develop trichinosis.)

An added bonus to this cooking method is you unknowingly fought the Grease Menace.  We create the Grease Menace when we pour used fats, oils, and greases (FOG) down the drain.

Bacon grease is a contributor to FOG.  It begins as a liquid that looks like it can easily be disposed of down the drain with a little warm water and dish detergent.  DON’T DO THAT!  The problem starts soon after the drippings are out of sight.  Just as occurred on the parchment paper, the grease in the sewer pipes begins to cool and change from a liquid to a solid.  The solids cling to the inside of the pipes, constricting the flow of the wastewater.  Food particles, baby/”flushable” wipes, and other FOGs erroneously put down the drain will attach to this glob of grease.  Eventually, you create what we call a FOG clog.

A FOG clog is a mess so disgusting I refuse to include a photo of it here and ruin your thoughts of delightful bacon.  You have to click here to see it.  And then you can click here and see how a FOG clog can affect you directly.  And I am definitely not going to show you an example of how the bacon grease does the same thing in your arteries.  For that, click here.

Final Thoughts:

I hope you find these instructions simple, the results yummy, and the clean-up a snap.  And if you ever invite me over to eat, I’d like the bacon on my Gardenburger to be extra crispy.

*I know adding bacon back into my diet means I am no longer a pesco lacto ovo vegetarian.  Today I prefer to refer to myself as simply a picky eater.  I do not eat the beef, chicken, or most of the pig.  I know the effects a meat diet have on the environment, our water supply, and the animal.  For these reasons, I keep my bacon eating to a minimum, believing every little bit I do to cut back on meat consumption helps.

An advocate for Water is an Advocate for Peace

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

Today is the International Day of Peace.  It is great time to reflect on peace and conflict and to recognize peace advocates and the risks they have taken to “fight” for peace.  I am proud to share the planet with these people.  Although it is ridiculous to compare myself to Malala Yousafzai or Eleanor Roosevelt, they inspire me to think about what I can do for peace.

There are a lot or reasons for war and one of them is something I can actually help with.  According to the Pacific Institute at least 343 wars and conflicts have been fought over water.  The number of conflicts can only increase as the demand for water grows along with world population. If I am an advocate for water, I am also an advocate for peace.

We abuse water.

Although water is essential for life and the health of all ecosystems on Earth, people do not treat water well.  Water is a victim of pollution and over consumption of water-hogging products.  The abuse of our water resources leads to shortages, seemingly unsustainable water management decisions, and conflict.

There are many things I can do as an individual to conserve water. Conserving is a great first step, but water use by individuals is a drop in the bucket compared to how much water goes into the goods we purchase and the food we eat.


85% of water consumed goes toward irrigation and livestock and animal agriculture uses more water than all other agriculture combined.  Animal Agriculture is also the leading cause of climate change.  But this is a water blog, so I will steer clear of that issue.  Or should I?  Climate change is intensifying droughts, floods, and hurricanes. Water and climate change are inextricably linked.  If something makes climate change worse, it makes drought worse too.

Keep it simple.

Being a water advocate is getting more and more complicated.  What can one person do?  Keep it simple and do these 5 things.

  • Continue to conserve at home! This protects the Oconee River’s ecosystem and helps ensure we have enough clean drinking water.
  • Eliminate most meat and dairy from your diet. It sounds hard, but it isn’t.  Even the laziest person can be vegan.  https://veganlazy.wordpress.com/  http://lazygirlvegan.com/
  • Share your knowledge. If one of your friends becomes a water advocate, your impact doubles!
  • Attend public meetings and ask how decisions will impact water. Pay attention!
  • Support organizations that support water. Here are few to check out
    1. Water for People http://www.waterforpeople.org/
    2. American Rivers http://www.americanrivers.org/
    3. I may get in trouble for this one:  cowspiracy.com
    4. Population growth is something to consider as well  http://www.npg.org/

Do you have ideas on how to defend water and advocate for its protection?  Let me know by leaving a comment.  Thanks!


Splash into the Athens Water Festival

As summer comes to an end, we invite you to close it out with a splash at the Athens Water Festival.  Bring the kids out to meet sea life, crawl through a stormwater maze, and take a water conservation pledge.  Over a dozen organizations dedicated to water come together to make the event possible.  Don’t tell your little squirts, but all of the hands-on and interactive displays, games, and activities are educational.

Looks like these kids would love a cool glass of water! Take the challenge. Snap a picture and enter it on Instagram, #BeanBoozledChallenge, for a chance to win $5,000!

Here are just a few of the activities you can look forward to:

Water Conservation Pledge
The theme this year is “Conserve: WATER U waiting 4?”.  Take a moment to consider what you can do around the house to use water more efficiently and pledge to adopt these behaviors.  After making your promise, take the jellybean challenge.  Pick out a Jelly Belly Beanboozeled bean and taste it.  Did you get tutti-frutti flavor or dirty sock flavor?  If you got dirty socks, I bet you will want a glass of water quickly!  Thank goodness for clean water.

UGA Marine Sciences (10)

Get close and personal with creatures from the sea.

Meet Sea Life

Touch sea critters you can find swimming off of our Georgia coast at the incredible exhibit brought by the UGA Marine Sciences Department.  Did you know that what we do to our water in Athens has the power to affect the waters hermit crabs and sea brittles call home?  After you meet these little guys, you will want to take care of them and water.

water trucks (11)

Wear a swimsuit and be drenched in fun!

Splash Dance Zone

Bring a swimsuit and dance in the spray of one of our water flush trucks.  Kids can meet the staff who ensure we have clean water in Athens.  Our knowledgeable workers will explain how these trucks and equipment are used around town every day.  Did you know we have a Camera/TV truck?  It has a robot to send down our sewer lines to look for spills.  Don’t worry!  We will clean it before you see it!


Mr. Keith and Chuck the Duck bring the magic to the Athens Water Festival.

Magical Water

Mr. Keith, the magician, is on hand to dazzle with amazing magic tricks that he has sprinkled with water fun.  Do you know what can be added to a wand to make flowers suddenly appear?  Water!  He makes an appearance at 12:00 and 1:00.

Light Saber Battle


Lets get the excitement started!

Being a bit of a Star Wars nerd, the upcoming movie is cause for some excitement.  What better way to celebrate than to allow participants to take the battle for the universe into the waters of Lake Chapman with light sabers made from pool noodles.  (I promise, these are harmless!)  OK, so this activity doesn’t fall into the traditional realm of educational, but your kids will strengthen their physical skills, increase their cultural literacy, and get into the water.

This is just a drop in the bucket compared to all of the fun we have planned for the Athens Water Festival.  Whether you take time to become a water molecule as it travels through the water cycle, save turtles from plastic jellyfish, or discover how much water goes into your Whopper, your appetite will have been “wetted” for water education.

Conserve Water Fest Logo OzThe Athens Water Festival

When:  Saturday, September 12, 2015

Time:  10:00am – 2:00pm

Where:  Sandy Creek Park, 400 Bob Holman Road

Cost:  $2 park admission per person; activities at festival are FREE!

More Info:  www.athenswaterfestival.com

Brought to you by:  Athens-Clarke County Stormwater, Leisure Services, and Water Conservation Office

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.

the National

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.


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


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.


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.


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.

Zebra 101 disk 352

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.”