Water Conservation for Every Season

This week’s blog post is written by Caroline Cummings, WCO intern and someone who’s not sure how to dress for 30-degree mornings and 65-degree afternoons.

The transition from winter to spring in the southeast is always…interesting. The weather is unpredictable to say the least, considering this time two weeks ago it was heavily snowing yet last week it was in the 70s. In Athens, we are “blessed” with the opportunity to experience all seasons in a short amount of time—in as little as two weeks if we’re “lucky.” It can be hard to keep up with all these fluctuations, so here are some tips on how to conserve and appreciate water in every season!

Winter-

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  • Winterize your outdoor pipes: wrap in insulation to keep outdoor pipes from bursting when temperatures drop below freezing.
  • Drip faucets: this may seem counter-intuitive, but by keeping faucets lightly dripping through the coldest hours, you can prevent bursting of pipes which can waste up to TWO bathtubs full of water!
  • Insulate hot water pipes: this will help keep pipes warmer and allow showers and sinks to produce hot water faster, saving many gallons of water. This will also help winterize these pipes and prevent bursts.
  • PLAY in the snow!

Spring-

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Jamie Calkin. 2012 ACC WCO Roll Out the Barrels

  • Prioritize outdoor watering needs: take time to figure out which areas of your yard (depending on what is planted there) will need the most watering. Focus your water usage on these areas and let natural rainfall take care of the rest!
  • Weed gardens: as weed populations begin to grow with the rain and warmer weather of spring, make sure to manage them by weeding your gardens. This will prevent the weeds from stealing water away from your other plants.
  • Capture and recycle rainwater: using rain barrels (can be bought at Walmart, Home Depot, Amazon, etc): capture all the excess rain to use for future plant watering or car washes.
  • Use your creativity to decorate your rain barrel: they aren’t just functional pieces of equipment, but artwork for your home!

Summer-

  • Wait until the cooler hours to water lawn: to prevent water loss from evaporation, water your lawns and gardens during the cooler morning hours. This will also help prevent fungal g5b9085241875855d969a8b0be49ebfd7rowth that may occur at dusk and throughout the night.
  • Drink from reusable bottle: we are bound to get thirsty in the hotter months. Every time you use a reusable bottle, you can help save the 3 liters of water that it takes to make a 1 liter disposable bottle.
  • Use a soaker hose/sprinkler wand instead of standard hose: particular hose attachments can help distribute water more efficiently and help prevent loss from mist, runoff, and evaporation.
  •  Go swimming, rafting or kayaking: get outdoors and cool off with some fun water-related activities!

Fall-

  • Be aware of plant water needs: as the temperatures begin to drop, the water needs of your plants drop with them.
  • Do laundry only when the load is full: as you start to wear more layers, be sure to only do laundry when you have enough clothes to make a full load. One load requires around 30 gallons of water so make sure to use them wisely. anigif_enhanced-9469-1436632452-3
  • Sweep with a broom, not a hose: as the leaves begin to fall, keep your driveways and paths clear by using brooms to sweep up the leaves instead of spraying off with a hose.
  • Hike to nearby waterfalls and enjoy the view: check out this link! Georgia Waterfall Hikes

 

 

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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

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.

Outdoor Water Conservation in Athens

This week’s blog post is from WCO Intern Laura Keys.

Quick! Think of 3 ways you can conserve water at home!

… Are you thinking about shorter showers? Turning off the water when you brush your teeth? Running dishwashers and washing machines with full loads? Fixing leaky faucets? All of these are excellent practices that will help you reduce the amount of water you use at home. But did you think about anything on the outside of your house?

The actual sprinkler at fault wasn’t quite as cute as this Toys ‘R’ Us yard snake.

More than half of residential water use is estimated to go towards outdoor use — for watering plants, washing cars, power-washing houses, playing in sprinklers, and so on. And even more so in the summer when we’re all feeling motivated to be outside (but still want to stay cool).

I thought that surely people have moved past the whole “watering the street with their sprinklers” thing, but on a walk through 5 Points, I was reminded that this scenario still happens: in front of some new construction with brand-new bermuda grass, there was a lone sprinkler merrily watering the grass, sidewalk, and street during the heat of the day.

So clearly there are still problems with how water is used in Athens, but there are also a lot of people that do things right! Here are a few concrete things that people in Athens are doing that YOU too can do around your home to conserve water use outdoors.

First off, don’t let all that lovely rainwater that hits your roof go to waste… set up a rain barrel! Rain barrels collect rainwater and store it until you decide to use it. You can water plants with it, wash your car, wash the dog, anything you would normally use the hose to do. The Public Works building downtown has a rain barrel system in place that collects water from the roof and waters a lovely vegetable garden with it.

okra

While you’re harvesting water for your plants, consider how much water your plants will need. Athens isn’t in a state of drought at the moment, but we’re often on the cusp of it. In drought-prone areas, try out some plants that require less water, such as amaranth, okra, succulents, peppers, and many varieties of tomatoes.

yard landscaped with pine mulch (outdoorlivingbymrmulch.com)

In addition to your desired plants and grass, use mulch to keep moisture in the soil and to control undesired weeds. If you really want to save on the watering, skip the green lawn and cover your yard area entirely with wood chip or pine mulch.

Finally, be smart about watering and use smart irrigation practices. You don’t need a lot of fancy automatic moisture sensors to figure out when to water! Just use an old-school, manual approach: dig down about 2-3 inches, and shape a handful of soil into a ball. If it keeps its form, there’s enough moisture in the soil already. And when the time inevitably comes to water your plants, do what you can to prevent evaporation. Avoid watering during the hottest parts of the day, and water the plants on the ground near their roots rather than in the air around their leaves.

And above all, remember: people and plants need water, but your driveway doesn’t!

To read more about particular sites in Athens practicing water conservation, check out this older blog post: https://thinkatthesink.wordpress.com/2013/06/24/sandy-creek-nature-center/

100 Gallon Snowflake

This week’s blog from Laurie Loftin, Program Specialist with Water Conservation Office

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The inspirational EPA WaterSense banner about average water use.

An interesting droplet of information from the EPA states that the average American uses 100 gallons of water a day. I am fortunate enough to know quite a few “average Americans,” and I can share typical responses I receive when I toss out this tidbit of trivia. Often times people simply don’t believe the number is accurate and try to disprove it. Others politely listen to the fact and tiptoe around the topic as if I brought up politics, religion, or their in-laws. And still others are amazed at the large amount of water consumption and discussion ensues. But each of these average Americans has one thing in common: they have a hard time visualizing what 100 gallons looks like.

This holiday season the Athens-Clarke County (ACC) Public Utilities Department* wants to give the gift of visualization. Let me explain. Inspiration was first sparked from a banner created by WaterSense. The banner very concisely stated Americans use 100 gallons a day, while a person in a developing country uses 5 gallons a day. At the annual Athens Water Festival we used the banner to create an interactive display. We invited festival goers to pick up two 2.5 gallon jugs of water and stroll down the walkway towards the banner. This gave people the ability to understand just how heavy five gallons are. To help participants compare the five gallons to their average water use, we lined the walkway with 100 1-gallon jugs, 50 jugs evenly placed on each side. It definitely was a conversation starter.

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Gallons and gallons of jugs that needed to be put to reuse.

After the festival, we had 100 jugs leftover. We could have simply put them into the recycling bin, but collecting 100 jugs is not an easy task. A little dumpster diving was involved. I admit to stalking my neighbors recycling bins. Our recycling division pulled some jugs out for us that were, ummmm, ripe. No, our efforts demanded we come up with another way to get more use out of these jugs.The perfect opportunity for their reuse soon floated right to us. The annual ACC Parade of Lights is held the first Thursday of every December. This year the parade theme is “The Sounds of Christmas.” How does a public utility incorporate water, 100 1-gallon jugs, and sounds of Christmas into one float? The first thought was to create Jug Man. This would be a large human shaped form made from jugs. If dressed appropriately, he could hold a sign saying “H2O, ho, ho!” But this idea didn’t adequately address The Sounds of Christmas component.

early snowflake

Early look at the 100 Gallon Snowflake. See more images below…

Then genius struck. “I’ll Have a Blue Christmas Without You” is our theme! The song has double meaning for our float. First, the color blue is associated with water. Secondly, imagine how blue you would be without clean water available with the turn of a tap. One hundred 1-gallon jugs are arranged to form a giant snowflake with blue lights snaked through each one. We wear sandwich boards explaining the concept of the float as we walk beside it, passing out candy and water conservation themed tattoos to parade spectators. The average American gets to see exactly what 100 gallons looks like with this beautiful, eye-catching display. Brilliant! Best. Float. Ever.

So, citizens of Athens-Clarke County and all across the world, we hope you enjoy this small gift of visualization we joyfully give to you this holiday season. Be aware of your water use and use it wisely. Then maybe next time I won’t have to gather so many jugs and we can make a smaller snowflake.

Peace, love, and water to everyone.

*A Tremendous THANK YOU to all of the people in ACC Public Utilities Department who worked together to create this piece of art: the brainstormers, the designers, the builders, the light stringers, the supervisors who gave time for employees to work, the big truck driver, the walkers, the riders, the problem solvers, the cheerleaders, those who couldn’t get away but wanted to, thank you to EVERYONE!

Wet Feet: Understanding Your Water Footprint

 

Everyone has heard of a carbon footprint, but have you heard of a water footprint?  A water footprint is the total amount of direct and indirect water used by an individual or manufacturer. 

Direct water use is when you turn on a faucet or a hose.  Some examples include brushing teeth, showering, flushing the toilet, washing a car, or watering a garden. 

Indirect water    is needed to produce, grow, or manufacture the items we  use every day. It refers to the water necessary for producing  steel for your car, growing cotton for your jeans, and processing your  hamburger meat. 

Understanding how you contribute to your water footprint is the first step to creating a culture of conservation and protecting water on a    larger scale. For example, did you know that almost 70% of the freshwater withdrawn is used in agriculture to produce everything from beef to wheat? 

Check out this table to learn how much indirect water is used to produce everyday items.

Item

Gallons of Water Required to Produce

1 pound of chocolate

3,170

1 pound of beef

1,799

1 gallon of wine

1,008

1 gallon of milk

880

1 gallon of coffee

880

1 gallon of beer

689

1 pound of chicken

468

1 pound of wheat

134

1 gallon of tea

128

Want to dry up your water footprint a little bit?  Here are some things you can do:

Reduce Your Indirect Water Use:

  • Switch to a morning cup of tea instead of coffee.  It takes 37 gallons of water to produce an 8oz cup of coffee, but only 8 gallons for the same sized cup of tea.

  • Buy only the food you can eat before it goes bad.  Indirect water is needed to produce fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, and dairy.  Anything you throw away is the same as pouring water (and money!) down the drain.

  • Skip the meat in your meal one day a week.  Depending on how far back you go in the production chain, a hamburger can use up to 1,300 gallons of water to produce.

  • Purchase cloth items made with synthetic materials.  Sheets made of 100% cotton requires 300% more water to produce than a 50/50 cotton/polyester blend.

  • Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.  The less we consume, the less water we use.

Reduce Your Direct Water Use:

  • Drop your used tissues into the trash instead of flushing down the toilet and save gallons each time.

  • Run your dishwasher and clothes washer only when full and save up to 1,000 gallons a month.

  • Turn off the water while brushing your teeth and save 25 gallons of water a month.

  • Save water and cut down on laundry by reusing your bathroom towels to dry off with.

  • Take a shower instead of a bath.  A short shower only uses 10-25 gallons, while a bath takes up to 70 gallons.

We can’t create new water; all the water on the earth is all the water that we will ever have on earth. 

We need to conserve and manage our water in order to meet our water needs now and for future generations. 

Learn about your Water Footprint by visiting one of these two sites:

Now go dry your feet.

Originally posted on waterconservationstation.blogspot.com, 11/06/12