Our Chance to Prove Ourselves to the Nation

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

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

mayors challenge 3rd 2015

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

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

Did you know?

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

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

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

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

prizes

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

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Little Lily Hops to Rome for Drinking Fountains and Kitties

Little Lily Hops to Rome for Drinking Fountains and Kitties

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

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

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

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

 

GA EPD: The Time to Prepare For Drought is Now

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

We are in between droughts.  There is no better time to prepare.  

To help water providers prepare for the next inevitable drought, the Georgia DNR Board adopted rules that replaced the Outdoor Water Use Rules in August of 2015.  As far as I can tell there has been little, if any, information developed to help utilities, irrigation/ landscape professionals, and other water users implement these rules.  They are confusing, but in a nutshell, the new “Drought Management” rule does four things: creates provisions for a drought response committee; requires pre-drought mitigation strategies; introduces new drought indicators and triggers; and requires a series of drought response strategies.

There are substantial changes in the new rules that require new and specific actions.  The rule introduces three new drought levels.  The first level requires a little bit of public notice and the third requires nearly an outdoor watering ban plus mandatory drought surcharges and other actions that many utilities and water users may find challenging and should prepare for.

In order to make sense of the new rules and how they will impact utilities and water users, the Georgia Water Wise Council has enlisted the assistance of law students at the University of Georgia to develop a Guidance Document for the Drought Rules. This guidance should be ready in March, 2016.  In the meantime it is important for Utilities to start preparing for some of the requirements now.  The most urgent of which is conservation rates.

Local water systems that do not have water rate conservation pricing in place are required to develop a “drought surcharge program” by June 24, 2016.  These surcharge rates would be required under a Level 3 Drought Response.  EPD considers the surcharge to be a “temporary price incentive for customers to reduce water demand during a declared drought”(Responses to Comments Received During the Public Comment Period April 13, 2015-May 13, 2015 ).  Some systems that demonstrate to EPD that their billing systems are unable to charge distinctive rates or are unable to apply a surcharge rate only to the volumetric portion of the bill may be exempt from this requirement.

To learn more about conservation rates look at the EPD Guidance Document prepared in August 2007, “Conservation-Oriented Rate Structures” (http://www1.gadnr.org/cws/Documents/Conservation_Rate_Structures.pdf)

Recognizing that at any given time we are either in a drought or in between droughts, EPD introduces a “predrought” condition with this rule. During predrought times the odd even schedule does not apply. The rule is consistent with the Water Stewardship Act and allows for outdoor water use 7 days a week after 4:00 PM and before 10:00 AM.  Exemptions like drip irrigation, wells, food gardens, etc have not changed.

The predrought mitigation strategies apply only to outdoor water uses for the purposes of planting, growing, managing, or maintaining ground cover, trees, shrubs, or other plants. This leaves predrought restrictions on outdoor water uses such as pressure washing, swimming pools, fountains, etc unclear.   It is up to local governments to apply limits to these water uses during non-drought periods if needed to ensure drought resilience. (This is just my take on this, don’t modify your ordinances before confirming with EPD.)

Drought declaration decisions will be made by EPD using a set of drought indicators.  There are three Drought Response Levels that build on one another.  In other words, Level 2 requires that both Level 1 and Level 2 requirements be implemented.  All that is required in Level 1 is the implementation of a minimal public information campaign that only includes public notice regarding drought conditions.  If your area is entering a drought it would be a good idea to ramp up your public outreach efforts above and beyond the minimum requirement.  A good source of water conservation materials for customers is EPA’s WaterSense Program.

Drought Response Level 2 brings back the familiar odd/even schedule.  Outdoor irrigation can occur on Thursday and Sunday for odd addresses and on Wednesday and Saturday for even addresses. Watering cannot occur between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM.  All the non-drought exemptions still apply.  For example, drip irrigation and watering of plants for sale can go on without any restrictions.  Drought Response Level 2 is where the non-plant related outdoor water use restrictions kick in.  Using water to wash hard surfaces, fountains, and car washing are not allowed.  This is also when the Drought Response Menu comes into play.  Water providers must implement four or more of the menu items and submit a monthly report to EPD detailing their chosen strategies and the extent of implementation and enforcement during level 2.

Drought Response Level 3 does not allow for any outdoor irrigation, however many of the non-drought exemptions still apply.  For example, hand watering, watering of food gardens, and golf courses is allowed twice a week and professional landscapers can still install and work on irrigation systems.

When Drought Level 3 is declared, public water systems must adopt every strategy on the Menu, including drought surcharges.  A utility does not have to adopt drought surcharges if they have a tiered rate system, do not serve retail customers, or their billing system cannot implement them. It is up to the discretion of EPD whether they will implement numeric reduction requirements during Drought Level 3.

Confused yet?

The new Drought Rules will impact a wide variety of groups and individuals.  The WaterWise Council promotes sound water efficient policies and practices in Georgia by bringing together environmental NGOs, water industry professionals, and green industry professionals.  As such, the council represents a well-balanced view of water issues.  The Council asked the University of Georgia law students who are working on the guidance document to consider the Rule’s impact on water providers and a variety of different water users including landscape and irrigation professionals.

Stay tuned, in March there should be some good guidance on what these rules mean to you as a water user or water provider.  In the meantime, remember that we are in between drought so be smart.  You have control about how severely the next drought will impact you.  Be smart about what you plant, the plumbing fixtures you install, and your water use habits.  When a drought comes, and you know it will, you will be ready.

 

 

Hello. It’s Me.

This week’s blog was written by WCO graduate assistant and Adele-fan Lily Cason.

Have you seen Saturday Night Live’s recent skit about how Adele’s song “Hello”* can keep your family from fighting at Thanksgiving?

 

In the video a family gets into some conversation minefields, but the holiday spirit is saved when the family is united by their love of Adele. We all love Adele. Her single “Hello” has reached #1 on the charts in 28 countries and became the first song ever to have more than 1 million digital sales in a week. Adele seems to be universally loved and appreciated.

But “#1” doesn’t just apply to music. There’s another thing that unites us all: water. More than 7 billion people use water every day in every country around the world. I was wondering if maybe water could unite our families at Thanksgiving as well.

Hello from the other siiiide! Those of us who work for water utilities have a special glimpse into a hidden world. In the time that I have been working for the ACC Public Utilities Department, I have learned so much about our infrastructure and the issues we deal with in the water world. I often joke that this job has ruined my life, because I am now obsessed with scraping my dishes clean so as not to send clog-producing fats, oils, and grease down the drain. I make sure to only flush the 4 Ps (Poo, Pee, Puke, and toilet Paper) and throw floss and tissues in the trash instead. I refuse to leave a restaurant water glass without drinking all of the water in it (water conservation and hydration win!). I turn the faucet off while brushing my teeth. I use grey water to water my plants.

Why do I do all of these things? Because I am so grateful to have clean water. In the United States we are lucky to have clean drinking water and wastewater treatment that keeps our waterways clean. So I do what I can to help maintain these systems that I feel so lucky to have. Part of that means sharing what I’ve learned. At the Water Conservation Office we lead tours of our facilities, talk about water in school programs, and post to social media to share what we know.

My friends and family may get tired of hearing about my Adele and water obsessions, but at least I can say that I’ve tried (too much?).

I encourage you to share what you know about water with your loved ones this Thanksgiving. Whether you talk about how to handle the grease left over from your delicious holiday cooking (eg. don’t pour it down the drain), how the water bears that help clean our wastewater can survive in outer space (!), the 2.5 billion people in the world who don’t have access to improved sanitation, or whatever else you find interesting.  Remind your loved ones to conserve and appreciate our water resources because it’s no secret that the both of us…are running out of time.

When my family goes around the table on Thursday to say what we are thankful for, I will definitely say: Adele.

And water too, of course. 🙂

* Here is the original music video for Adele’s “Hello” in case you missed it

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

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.

Keep Showering Better, Athens

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

October was “Shower Better” month, but even though it’s over, you don’t have to stop showering better!

A low-flow showerhead that puts out 1.25gpm of water

For about 3 weeks in October, the Athens-Clarke County Water Conservation Office partnered with some local hardware stores to distribute 500 low-flow shower heads to county residents. It would have been for all 4 weeks of October, but we ran out of them before the end of the month! People were really excited about getting new showerheads, and it was surprising how many people who got one said, “Perfect timing, my old one just stopped working.”

So even though ACC isn’t distributing free showerheads at the moment, a new showerhead won’t set you back too far. They range in cost from about $6 to $50, about the same as non-low-flow ones, but they’ll help save you money starting immediately.

Take this back of the envelope calculation: assuming 4 showers a week, lasting 10 minutes each, with a 2.5 gallon per minute (gpm) showerhead, and a water cost of $4.84 per 1,000 gallons, you’d spend around $25.17 for a year’s worth of shower water. By switching to a low-flow 1.25 gpm showerhead, you’ll spend just $12.58 on shower water, which makes up for the new showerhead and saves you money in the future as well. (And we’re not even going into savings on heating costs.) If you have a really old showerhead or if you shower more frequently, your savings will be even bigger!watersense-label-300x230

For big savings on any appliances that use water, look for the EPA’s WaterSense label. (It’s like the EnergyStar certification, except for efficient water use.) If you already have a low-flow showerhead and want to take your water conservation to the next level, try taking shorter showers or turning off the water while lathering your hair. Or be a true daredevil and try cooler temperature showers, which are great for your hair and skin… if you can stand them! Instead of “Shower Better Month” let’s try for a “Shower Better Year.”