5 Great Songs for National River Month

Today’s blog is by Laurie Loftin, who enjoys music by the water

June 1 begins National River Month.  What a perfect time to visit a river, whether it be to float down on a kayak or to take an early morning walk along the bank.  Bring a cooler, friends, and a playlist and you are ready to go.  To help you along with the music, I share with you my favorite five river-themed songs.

#5.  “Proving Ground,” Widespread Panic

OK, this one might be a stretch as a river song, but our favorite songs are often based on the memories we associate with a song.  The self-titled Widespread Panic album came out the summer I graduated from college.  I spent many an enjoyable day with friends by the rivers in Athens listening to the songs of this album.  “Proving Ground” talks about discovering just how strong you are when you are in over your head.  Jump in the middle of the river to find out just how tall you are.

River Fact:  Those rivers I lounged beside and in were more than just a spot to relax and plan my future.  The Middle and North Oconee Rivers are two of the three drinking water sources for Athens, GA.

#4.  “The River,” Bruce Springsteen

I recently got involved in a conversation regarding the best Bruce Springsteen song ever.  I fully backed “Rosalita,” the rebellious song about forbidden love.  My friend is not always as upbeat as I, so he picked “The River.”  Though I still throw my support behind Rosie, I can’t argue with his choice.  “The River” doesn’t have the same burst of rock-and-roll energy, but the haunting harmonica and lyrics of struggle always lead you to the river, a symbol of dreams and hope for the young couple.

River Fact:  In the song, the young couple marries and join as one.  The Middle Oconee and North Oconee River join as one to form the Oconee River south of Athens, just before Oconee County.

#3.  “Take Me to the River,” Talking Heads

Flowing back to the idea that memories make a song special, I turn to The Talking Heads, “Take Me to the River.”  When my son was three, Schlotzsky’s was a go-to stop for lunch.  This song came over the speakers and Dylan began to sing the chorus:  “Take me to the river, drop me in the wa-wee”.  Even though David Byrne clearly says “water,” my little guy could not pronounce “water” and loudly sang away with the carefree spirit of a child.  As an added bonus, the restaurant had a Big Mouth Billy Bass on the wall.  Dylan would push the button for the fish to sing along.  The song still puts a smile on my face, whether it is Dylan, David, or Billy singing.

River Fact:  The Middle Oconee and North Oconee headwaters, or starting point, are found in Hall County.   The rivers flow 55-65 miles before joining to form the Oconee River.

#2.  “Burn On,” Randy Newman

The song immortalized the Cuyahoga River in lyrical art.  Randy Newman puts music to what was once a travesty.  Almost a dozen times, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio caught on fire.  Yes, water caught on fire.  The city treated the waterway as if it was an industrial sewer pipe.  The lowest life forms could not survive in the muck.  A fire on the river in 1969 attracted national attention, later sparking the enactment of the Clean Water Act in 1972.  Today, the Cuyahoga River is a source of pride.  Cleveland coordinates clean up efforts that have resulted in a habitat for more than 60 species of fish, beavers, and birds.

River Fact:  Every year, Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful organizes a river clean up for the Middle and North Oconee Rivers.  In 2017, 405 Rivers Alive volunteers came out to help clean up 21 sites. They collected 3.1 tons of trash, 1 ton of recycling, 1,440 lbs of metal, and 150 tires during the event!   Volunteer for the next Rivers Alive this fall.

#1.  “Down the River,” Chris Knight

I believe the secret to an exceptional song is the ability to tell a complete story in about five minutes.  “Down the River” accomplishes this with such beauty and subtle intensity,  the final verse still gives me a case of goosebumps and earns my Number 1 spot for Best River Song.  Close the door, turn off the phone ringer, and give the tale an uninterrupted listen.  Then you will understand why I have no doubt Wilson’s cousin will forever be looking over his shoulder.  Unfortunately for him, his alertness and caution cannot save him.  He will never see Walter’s brother coming.

River Fact:  In addition to supplying Athens with drinking water, the North Oconee and Middle Oconee Rivers are home to White Bass, Black Bass, Crappie, Bream, and Catfish.  Maybe these were a few of the fish Walter caught before falling over the boat’s side.

I hope the songs inspire you to visit a local river.  Not sure how to get to the river?  Check out the following options.

Visit the North Oconee River:  Walk along the Oconee Rivers Greenway.  Take a tour of the Greenway while listening to a podcast about the river.  Bring a picnic lunch and visit Dudley Park.

Visit the Middle Oconee River:  Go fishing at Ben Burton Park.  Float down your drinking water source on a kayak.  Walk along the White or Orange Trials a the State Botanical Garden of Georgia.

Share photos of yourself visiting the river with us on Facebook or Instagram, #LilyAnnePhibian.  Stay Blue, Athens!


An Athenian in Cape Town

This blog was written by Marilyn Hall who is lucky enough to travel the world with friends.

Last month I traveled to Cape Town, South Africa in search of water conservation ideas……Here are some things I learned.

Cape Town is really far away. We drove an hour to the Atlanta airport, flew 9 hours to Amsterdam, had a two-hour layover, and then flew 11 hours to Cape Town. When we arrived all I wanted to do was splash some water on my face, wash my hands, and brush my teeth. Much to my disappointment, there was no running water at the sinks at the airport!

airport sink

Splashing hand sanitizer on your face is not very refreshing.

Cape Town is experiencing an epic drought.  Drought reminders were everywhere, so I decided to take photos to share with the Athens-Clarke County Water Conservation Office. Hands sticky from hand sanitizer, I proceeded to customs and immigration.  These are some of the things I saw.

airport toilet

We were encouraged to embrace the “If it’s yellow it’s mellow” philosophy at the airport.

airport hallway

Signs the size of billboards lined the walls at the airport.

on the line

Their water use is “on the line”. Clever outreach idea.

airport billboard

Save like a local? What does that mean? I was about to find out.


Four million people call Cape Town home and they are three years into the region’s worst drought on record.  The reservoirs supplying South Africa’s second most populated city are almost empty.  Residents are limited to 50 liters per day, only 13.2 gallons.  The average American family uses more than 300 gallons every day, and that is just at home!

I also saw several signs promoting investment in Cape Town.  The economic impact of a drought like this must be enormous.  Imagine seeing signs claiming that Cape Town is running out of water next to signs promoting investment there.


Due to phone battery problems (thanks, Apple), I don’t have any photos of the investment signs at the airport.  But they looked something like this.

What could the impacts be?  I asked my travel companions and they were concerned about public health, civil unrest, and social equity.  One asked what the city would do if there was a fire.  I added that there are economic impacts such as lower rates of investment and job losses.


Day zero is the date when officials believe that Cape Town will run out of water. By the end of my trip, the number of days to Day Zero had increased to 136.  The fact that I was there probably had little to do with the improvement, but you never know.

Assuming it rains during their rainy season, political leaders believe that Day Zero will not happen in 2018...  But what if it doesn’t rain?

Years ago water resources planners knew this was coming.   I spoke with a lot of people while I was there.  I asked my Uber drivers, restaurant staff, people working at the hotels, etc.  They all told the same story. It went something like, “The government knew that they were going to run out of water, and ‘they’ were going to fix it.”  Years ago, if they had implemented recommended strategies such as augmenting water supplies with recycled water, they would not be in the position they are now.

newspaper old

Although water planners knew drought would be a problem, political leaders chose not to invest in infrastructure.

I am not sure what the people in Cape Town are going to do if Day Zero arrives.  One Uber driver told me has never had reliable drinking water and he will survive Day Zero.  I admire his resilience, but I am worried for the 4 million residents of Cape Town.

It is nice to be back home in Athens where we have conscientious local leaders who are willing to take responsibility for the future.  In February 2107, Athens’ Mayor and Commission approved the three recommendations of a risk-based water assessment. First, implement a water reuse program to send recycled water to industrial users that will offset demands for potable drinking water.  Second, develop additional conservation measures to reduce per capita demands by an additional 10%. Third, investigate the feasibility of additional raw water and recycled water storage.  These solutions will ensure that Athens will have reliable water supplies in the future.

I would love to travel to Cape Town again.  Hopefully, they will have resolved their water crisis before my next visit.

How much water is left in Cape Town today? Check out their water dashboard.

To learn more about the water crisis in Cape Town check out this great website from the University of Cape Town.

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

AthFest is so much Cooler when you recycle

AthFest is so much Cooler when you recycle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

water recycle

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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.

Farewell! Despedida! Adieu! Addio!

Farewell Everyone!

I am not going to lie my faithful bloggers, writing this blog has not been easy (I have avoided it for a week due to denial). I am here to say my final goodbyes as a Water Conservation Intern. Graduation is upon us.

Soon, I will be able to call myself a UGA ALUM. How crazy is that? Along with that title, I will take with me my time spent working as a Water Warrior. I can not thank the ACC Water Conservation Office enough for the experiences and the knowledge I have gained while working here. Marilyn, Laurie, Jackie, Nicki, Lauren, and Becky have been amazing and their work here in Athens has truly made a difference (my heart warms when I see the Conserve:Water U Waiting 4? bumper stickers).

I have been fortunate enough to attend and participate in many events with the Water Conservation Office.Within my first semester at the office I was even able to make a collection of short video clips for the Bob Snipes Water Resources Center with the help of Lily Anne Phibian. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QFIk2_UkyA) Looking back, it is difficult to choose just one event to be my favorite. In just this past year I was able to participate in the Ripple Effect Film Festival, the Athens Water Festival, Rivers Alive, the Christmas Parade and Float, and 2 Fix-A-Leak Weeks. Although these were the big names that are associated with the Water Conservation Office, the events and outreach programs done in the schools can not be overlooked! I will take with me all of the good memories I have of attending the Adopt-A-Class programs on Tuesday/Thursday mornings and being able to talk with students about the endless opportunities of jobs in water.

Working in water conservation, you can’t help but find a new appreciation for water. I grew up a swimmer, lived on the Chattahoochee River, and loved all water related activities! I often took this precious resource for granted without realizing all the work and effort that goes behind the conservation and protection of our resource. I hope this blog is a weekly reminder of just how important water is and the responsibility associated with its protection. It is in EVERYTHING we do. Even in my favorite TV show!

Photo courtesy of http://www.quicklol.com

As my time ends, others begin. Keep reading and keep conserving!


Nicole Duffy-Intern

Originally posted on waterconservationstation.blogspot.com, 5/1/13