Reduce, Reuse, Re-water-cycle

Today’s blog is by Laurie Loftin, program specialist in ACC Water Conservation Office

Reduce, reuse, recycle. This delightful alliteration reminds us of alternative ways to lighten the load in our landfills. But can this jingle apply anywhere else? Can we broaden the breadth of the 3 R’s to embrace our waters? Perhaps a “reduce, reuse, re-water-cycle” could become an updated slogan. Let’s take a look at how to adapt these concepts to care for a vital resource.

Reduce: The first “R” is easy to understand and accomplish. Turn off the water when brushing your teeth, find and repair leaks, or trim your meat consumption and you easily reduce your water footprint.  When we are in the habit of using less water, we are better prepared to handle the inevitable dip in our water supply. Reducing demand on reservoirs and other sources allows us to save this liquid gold for the non-rainy days of drought.

Reuse: Pollution, proximity, and drought are a few of the variables affecting our ability to easily access water. As our world population grows, our water resources remain the same. But is it possible there is another source of water we are overlooking?

There is. Sort of.  What we currently refer to as wastewater has the potential to be reused, essentially allowing us to find a “hidden” reservoir.  Reusing wastewater is not a new idea. In fact, March 22 marks World Water Day, an annual event coordinated by UN-Water. The date celebrates water and highlights a specific issue related to tackling the world’s growing water crisis. For 2017 the theme is “Why Waste Water?,” with a focus on the many applications for wastewater reuse.

According to UN-Water, “globally, over 80% of the wastewater generated by society flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused.”¹  If this water is treated and safely managed, it could offer an affordable supply of water, particularly in developing countries with limited access to water. Improved sanitation means better health, which leads to increased productivity and a positive economic impact that far outweighs the initial cost of wastewater treatment.

The idea is not a pipe dream.  Already cities across America are discovering ways to reuse water. Purple pipes allow access to treated water approved for the irrigation of golf courses and agriculture. The Waterhub at Emory University in Atlanta, GA reuses water to supply nearly 40% of the school’s non-potable needs. Breweries in CA and WA use treated wastewater to brew craft beers. Municipalities are beginning to investigate and plan for reservoirs that receive piped effluent. The many possibilities for reuse water in agriculture, energy production, and reservoir replenishment are intriguing and worth exploring.

Re-water-cycle: Reuse and recycle appear to be similar, but if we connect the terms to water, there is a clear distinction. Reuse involves imagining creative ways to reuse our wastewater.

Recycled water is the never-ending cycle of evaporation, condensation, and precipitation.  We can also think of water as being recycled when added to soft drinks, consumed in our bodies, and absorbed into our food crops.  The recycling of water is a good and necessary phenomenon.  However, water recycling is a double-edged sword.  During this revolution water can leave one community and move to another.  When water vapor blows from one state to another or transported away in a plastic soda bottle or cucumber,  the result is a water loss in one area and a water gain found in another.

A second way H2O recycles is during the “urban water cycle“.  Water is removed from a point of supply and taken to a drinking water treatment plant to be transformed to drinking water quality. The clean liquid flows through pipes to people’s homes and businesses. The water is used and flushed into sewer pipes to make its way to a water reclamation facility. The wastewater is treated and returned to the source, which flows to the next community to be pulled and turned into drinking water.  This happens again and again.

As presented, the 3 Rs are easily applicable to water.  The next question is whether or not others will agree.

When I speak of water reuse or recycling, listeners often wrinkle their noses in a display of disgust.  Understandably, the word “wastewater” tends to have negative preconceptions associated with it.  But if you are familiar with the treatment operations at water reclamation facilities, you know filtration equipment removes trash, solids, and inorganic compounds from the influent.  Microorganisms handle the removal of phosphorus, nitrates, and other undesirable elements.  Ultraviolet rays provide an additional layer of disinfection.  The remaining end product is typically cleaner than the source water it is added back to.  Any of the ickiness factor one links with the idea of wastewater reuse washes away during treatment.

If you go deeper, we can imagine the places our water may have been before it is in our drinking glass.  The water molecule you shower with may have once been inside a rabbit.  Your coffee may contain water that percolated down through someone’s septic drainfield.  Water has been recycled and reused from the dawn of time.  When it is properly treated, we have very little fear of becoming ill as a result of reusing these well-traveled molecules.

The point is, we already practice the 3 Rs in relation to water without thinking about it.  We must continue to reduce our demands on the water supply.  It is time for us to investigate innovative applications for wastewater reuse and put the ideas into action.  We need to ensure that wastewater is properly treated worldwide so only the cleanest water is available for recycling.  All of this can done.  We simply need to recognize that there is no such thing as wastewater, but rather only wasted water.


1 On average, high-income countries treat about 70% of the wastewater they generate, while that ratio drops to 38% in upper-middle-income countries and to 28% in lower-middle-income countries. In low-income countries, only 8% of industrial and municipal wastewater undergoes treatment of any kind (Sato et. al, 2013).


Is Wastewater Accurate?

This week’s blog is written by Laurie Loftin, who hopes to improve your vocabulary

Wastewater.  What do you think of when you hear this word?  Since working for a public utility, I associate it with water that goes into our sewers.  It is dirty, unpleasant, and nothing I want to get into.  Looking at the definition, I find it described as water that contains waste products; sewage.  Reading this, one realizes wastewater is simply a part of speech we refer to as a compound word.

There is a lot more water than there is waste in this liquid.

I never gave the word this much thought until I attended a water-related conference.  One of the speakers, who I apologize profusely to for I can’t remember her name, brought up the term.  She was disturbed that the word “waste” would ever be so commonly placed with the word “water”.  Her point being that water is so precious, we should never think of “wastewater”.  Water is too important to waste or be associated with wasting.

Since then, “wastewater” has been sloshing around my brain.  The speaker had a brilliant argument, particularly from a conservationist point of view.  We constantly create new ways to reach people with a message of not to waste water, yet as a public utility, we refer to wastewater every day.

Additionally, the term “wastewater” is completely inaccurate when you consider the treatment method the used liquid encounters.  Upon reaching a water reclamation facility, any solid wastes are immediately removed from the water through the screening and filtering processes.  Next, the water is introduced to microorganisms.  These little bugs get busy removing the contaminants we can’t see, such as phosphorus, ammonia, and other “yuckies”.  The water then passes through a bed of ultraviolet lights to offer additional disinfection.  The end product, called effluent, is reclaimed water that has been refreshed and is returned back to the source.

At no point during the water reclamation treatment is water wasted.  So how can we continue to call this used water “wastewater” when none is wasted?  The only “waste” is the “waste” added to the water.  This waste is giving our precious water a bad name.

With this rationale, I am proposing we reclaim our water from the waste.  Let’s change the vocabulary we use in our public utilities and coin a new term.

We turned to social media and posed this question to our followers: “What should we rename “wastewater”?”  Several wonderful and thoughtful suggestions came pouring in.  We wanted something that would roll off the tongue, was easy to understand, easy to remember, not too long, and provided a more accurate description.

Our winner is “Flush Water,” suggested by Mary Matthews, a dedicated promoter of water.  It is simple and flows.  It is accurate.  “Flush” is defined as “a rushing or overspreading flow, as of water.”  This happens not only in the typical way we think of a flush of a toilet, but also with the flushing of a pipe or drain.  And when it comes down to it, I think we would all rather be “flush with water” than “waste our water”.

How do I hope to create this movement from “wastewater” to “flush water?”  When I visit with our community through tours or classroom visits, I plan to mention “wastewater” only once.  This will be to briefly explain that I will be referring to this as “flush water” and add a quick explanation as to why.  At professional conferences, I will do the same.  Wherever I go, I will invite people to wash “wastewater” from their mouth, so to speak.

I invite you to become a part of this change in terminology.  “Sewage treatment plants” are now “water reclamation facilities”.   “Wastewater” will be “flush water”.  Will you join me?




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

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.  A UGA art class looking for “water in motion” used our influent as inspiration during their study of aqueous media.  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.  We even participated in  “The World’s Largest and Greatest Scavenger Hunt the World has Ever Seen“, which is a global charity event.  Participants marked off “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 individual containers with one holding wipes, another with toilet paper, and yet another with 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 will always be associated with sewage and sludge, which should not be viewed as a negative.  What a tour can do is remind the public how vital wastewater services are to our economy, the environment, and public health.  Guests see firsthand the power we have to reclaim, refresh, and return clean water to the source.  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.”

Water Professionals, you can’t live without them.

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

We all need clean water to survive, and we wouldn’t have clean water without our water professionals.  These men and women work for water 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  They clean and deliver drinking water to more than 36,000 homes and businesses, collect and treat wastewater for more than 27,000 customers, protect all of us from floods, and help to keep our waterways clean.

Send an email to to personally thank a water professional!

Athens-Clarke County employs more than 200 water professionals who are dedicated to protecting and managing our water. I hope you will take the time to think about them the next time you enjoy a glass a water, flush the toilet, drive on flood-free roads, or splash in the river.  Without them, we would not have the water we need to drink, fight fires, fuel our economy, or enjoy our quality of life.  The Georgia Legislature recognized their importance when they designated the first Monday in May as Water Professionals Appreciation Day.  Happy Water Professionals Day!

Water professionals have been working in Athens for a long time!

In 1880, a private water company built the first water works in the City of Athens. In the early 1890s, after years of complaints from the local residents, the city ended the private water company’s franchise and constructed a municipal water works. The first municipal water system had a capacity of 1 million gallons per day (MGD) and 16 miles of water lines serving a limited area of the community.  Today, our water system has the capacity to produce 36 MGD, with about 790 miles of water lines delivering high-quality drinking water to about 98% of our population in Athens-Clarke County. Water treatment is far more complex and the technology far more advanced than in the 1890s, but one thing has not changed – the importance of water to us all and the dedication of the individuals who provide it.

What about after the water is used?

We all know how much we depend on water in our everyday lives. Once you send water down the drain, it needs to be cleaned and recycled – this historically has been described as wastewater treatment. Now, because of the large advances in treatment technologies and regulations in the federal Clean Water Act, we reclaim, refresh, and return the water you have used.

The process is called water reclamation, because “reclaiming” means to bring the water back to its usable condition.  The high quality water produced by our water reclamation facilities can be used in irrigation and safely returned to our waterways.  We reuse it within our water reclamation facilities for daily operations, cleaning of facility equipment, and irrigation on the property, which cuts down on costs and conserves water.

There is more to water than tap and sewers.

Stormwater is water that runs off roofs, driveways, and streets into our storm drains. On its way, stormwater picks up chemicals and pollutants that contaminate our waterways. The Environmental Protection Agency has found that stormwater (non-point source pollution) is the number 1 leading cause of pollution in today’s streams, rivers, and lakes.  The water professionals in our Stormwater Management Program are dedicated to protecting Athens-Clarke County water from the moment it runs off our streets to the moment it reaches our streams.  They also protect us from floods by building and maintaining the system of stormdrains throughout our county.

Want to learn more?

The Athens-Clarke County Water Conservation Office provides workshops, school programs, tours, and other opportunities for residents to learn about water.  The Water Conservation Office also facilitates conservation policy and code development, is responsible for internal water loss reduction, and ensures adequate water supply is available in the future.

Go to to learn more about your water.


Ebola Information Released for Water and Wastewater Utilities | TPO – Treatment Plant Operator Magazine

This week’s blog is by Laurie Loftin, with a link to an article from the Treatment Plant Operator (TPO) Magazine published October 9, 2014.

Edit 12/18/14:  The Georgia Association of Water Professionals has added a page of links to the latest on Ebola information as it relates to wastewater.  As new information becomes available, I will continue to add to this page.

Ebola.  The word has the power to strike fear in most people’s minds.  I experienced this firsthand on a recent trip to Las Vegas.  I gathered with other water professionals for a tour of the Venetian hotel’s extraordinary sustainability practices.  Almost at once, phones began to chirp with tweets and texts.  A plane was on lock down at the Las Vegas McCarran airport.  Reports stated a passenger on board had symptoms of Ebola.  Several in our tour group were scheduled to fly out of McCarran in a few hours.  The tour stopped as people discussed what this might mean to them. Could they fly back to their loved ones?  Would there be any risk of infection at the airport?  Fortunately, it was later determined the passenger did not meet the criteria for Ebola, but the fear of Ebola is contagious and it traveled home.

According to the CDC, Ebola spreads through direct contact with the blood or body fluids, including urine and feceebolas, of an infected person.  I indirectly work with wastewater.  I know wonderful, dedicated, and passionate people who work directly with wastewater.  Is there any risk to these unsung heroes?

TPO Magazine,  a publication dedicated to wastewater and water treatment professionals, recently addressed these concerns in a publication summarizing findings from the Water Research Foundation.  Per their request, I include and encourage you to click-through to their article find up to date research associated with the risks of Ebola for wastewater professionals:

Ebola Information Released for Water and Wastewater Utilities | TPO – Treatment Plant Operator Magazine.

Edit:  The CDC states there is no evidence suggesting Ebola spreads through water.  It spreads through direct contact with the bodily fluid.  Information on the CDC website states, “Sanitary sewers may be used for the safe disposal of patient waste. Additionally, sewage handling processes (e.g., anaerobic digestion, composting, and disinfection) in the United States are designed to inactivate infectious agents.”  The CDC recommends wastewater professionals “wear  normal personal protective equipment as provided by their employer.”

Edit:  I received a response on 10/23/14 to my emailed questions from the CDC.  I had specifically asked them to clarify “minutes” in regards to how long the virus can live in water. I asked if residual chlorine in toilet bowl water (assuming the delivered water is treated using chlorine) is effective in killing the virus. I also asked about the life cycle of the virus and how water affects it, as well as what impact, if any, this could have on greywater reuse.  The response is as follows:

“The time that Ebola virus can remain infectious outside the body varies depending on the temperature, humidity, and pH levels, as well as other factors, but roughly about 1 to 2 days.

There is no evidence to suggest that the Ebola virus can spread through water. Ebola is spread by direct contact with:

• Bodily fluids of a person who is sick with or has died from Ebola (blood, vomit, pee, poop, sweat, semen, spit, other fluids)
• Objects contaminated with the virus (needles, medical equipment)
• Infected animals (by contact with blood or fluids or infected meat)

Additionally, the sewage handling processes in the United States are designed to inactivate infectious agents. Sanitary sewers (which transport sewage from houses and commercial buildings) may be used for the safe disposal of patient waste.”

Edit:  I received another response from the CDC on 10/24/14:

“Thank you for contacting NIOSH INFO. We received your inquiry about potential exposures to Ebola virus for wastewater workers.  CDC has prepared interim guidance for sewer workers that is going through expedited review.  The document, titled Interim Guidance for Workers Handling Untreated Sewage from Ebola Cases in the United States, will address basic hygiene practices, personal protective equipment (PPE) use, and PPE disposal actions. Specifically, this guidance will provide recommendations and protocols for
*             workers who perform sewer maintenance,
*             construction workers who repair or replace live sewers,
*             plumbers, and
*             workers who clean portable toilets.

PPE you should consider when doing this type of work includes:

*Goggles or face shield: to protect eyes from splashes of human waste or sewage.
*Face mask: to protect nose and mouth from splashes of human waste or sewage.
*Impermeable or fluid resistant coveralls: to keep human waste or sewage off clothing.
*Waterproof gloves: to prevent exposure to human waste or sewage.
*Rubber boots: to prevent exposure to human waste or sewage.

We will be posting the interim guidance soon. Please check the CDC Ebola Website periodically for more information at:”

If you happen to know or run into a water or wastewater professional, be sure and take a moment to thank him or her for their commitment to protecting the community, the environment, and you.

Laurie Loftin



Paddle the Basin! Today Only!

Today’s blog is by Marilyn Hall, Water Conservation Coordinator for Athens-Clarke County, GA

Today is going to be a beautiful day!  It might even get to 80 degrees this afternoon.  Can you think of a better way to celebrate Spring than enjoying a paddle-boat ride with your family?  Me neither!  That is why we invite you to “Paddle the Basin” at the Cedar Creek WRF.  Come See wastewater treatment close up and personal. From 2-5 PM today the Cedar Creek Water Reclamation Facility is open to paddle boat tours! See micro-organisms up close and meet the unsung heroes of wastewater treatment! For more information contact the Athens-Clarke County Water Conservation Office at 706-613-3729 or

Kids from Sandy Creek Nature Center Spring Break Camp test out one of our new boats!

Kids from Sandy Creek Nature Center Spring Break Camp test out one of our new boats!

We have been cleaning wastewater here in Athens since before the Clean Water Act! The first ACC wastewater treatment plant was built in 1962 along the North Oconee River. Another soon followed by the Middle Oconee in 1964 and a third began operations near Cedar Creek in 1980. Advances in wastewater treatment technology and population growth made it necessary ACC improve and expand the capacity of these plants. By 2012, the North Oconee and Cedar Creek plants had been decommissioned and new facilities were built and are operating in these locations. The Middle Oconee plant received a complete and extensive upgrade.

The plants are now referred to as Water Reclamation Facilities (WRF). The effluent (discharge) from a WRF is of such high quality, it can be reused in irrigation and safely returned to our waterways. The water is “reclaimed”.

We hope you will come see for yourself today when you can “Paddle the Basin” at Cedar Creek!

Facebook Event for Paddle the Basin!