Monday, July 20, 2009

Atlantans Urged To Continue To Respect Limited Water Resources

Mayor Shirley Franklin has urged Atlantans not to take advantage of the fact that the statewide drought declaration has been lifted, noting, “Our water resources are not unlimited. The City of Atlanta is doing its part with the $4 billion Clean Water Atlanta water and sewer infrastructure overhaul, and we hope that Atlantans continue to do their part by conserving water wherever possible.”

Atlantans rose to the challenge over the last two years during the recent drought, cutting their usage by 17 percent over pre-drought usage. In addition, Atlantans’ outdoor water use is very low compared with that of our neighbors, with a 23 percent to 26 percent increase during the summer months; many of the metro area counties see an increase between 50 percent and 100 percent over the summer.

Programs put in place to encourage water conservation in the commercial/industrial community have yielded impressive results, as well. Atlanta’s Top 50 users, which range from hotels to soft drink plants to tourist destinations like the Georgia Aquarium have cut their use dramatically. All 50 have shown usage decreases, some by as much as 45 percent.

Hotels and the hospitality industry have shown great leadership in water conservation; other facilities like the Aquarium and Delta Air Lines have been extremely creative in their use of water efficiency technologies; and other facilities, like Zoo Atlanta and Atlanta’s City Hall, have instituted educational campaigns and gone to great lengths to change customer behavior.

The City itself has implemented numerous programs designed to encourage conservation, including distribution of water conservation kits, flush valves and “instant-off” devices for faucets; free water audits; rain barrel construction programs; educational workshops for residents, landscapers and large users; toilet rebates; new toilet installations for low-income, elderly customers; establishment of the Save Water Atlanta Team to enforce watering restrictions; and implementation of three-tiered conservation rates that reward low use.

Additionally, at Mayor Franklin’s direction, the City has created a Sustainable Building Ordinance that significantly tightens water efficiency standards for new buildings, The ordinance is currently pending before the City Council.

Programs completed or currently under way as part of Clean Water Atlanta also are contributing to decreased usage by eliminating leaks that waste millions of gallons of water. The City is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to inspect every inch of its 1,600 miles of sewer pipe, repairing or replacing pipe when it is deemed necessary. To date, Atlanta has evaluated almost 1,300 miles of pipe and completed rehabilitation of 314 miles of the 600 miles it is estimated will need to be rehabbed.

Atlanta also purchased the Bellwood gravel quarry, which will eventually be a 1.2-billion-gallon reservoir. Design on the project, which will be part of what will become the City’s largest park, is ongoing.

The City also has replaced about 100 miles of water mains, some of which were originally installed in the early 1900s, and it is repairing more than 750 reported leaks every month (for comparison purposes, the contractor that ran the drinking water system prior to 2003 repaired about 750 leaks a year!)

In fact, Clean Water Atlanta is the largest water/sewer infrastructure overhaul currently under way in the United States.

It is not only dramatically reducing leaks, it also is resulting in a cleaner, healthier Chattahoochee River. Sally Bethea, executive director of the river’s watchdog, the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, says that the work the City is doing is having a demonstrable effect on the river’s health. Improvements to the City’s combined and sanitary sewer systems, including construction of two eight-mile-long tunnels and separation of three combined sewer basins, are ensuring that the wastewater returned to the river meets and exceeds all federal Clean Water standards. (Of the water taken from the Chattahoochee for drinking and other purposes, the City returns about 85 percent in the form of highly treated wastewater.)

Despite all this, however, Mayor Franklin urges Atlantans to continue their conservation efforts. “Take shorter showers,” she advises. “Turn off the tap when you brush your teeth, limit your outdoor water use, if you have leaks at your house, repair them. Running toilets can waste thousands of gallons of water a day! The State has lifted its drought declaration, but those of us who have been around a while know that another drought could be – and, in fact, very likely is – lurking around the corner. We need to conserve to make sure that our children and their children have access to clean, safe drinking water and can enjoy the same quality of life that we have.”
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