While still experiencing the effects of the level two drought, Athens-Clarke County has allocated funds to implement a water reuse program through the Athens Water Conservation Office.
Marilyn Hall, water conservation coordinator at WCO, said she is hopeful that purple pipes, which are used for reused water, will begin the installation process within a year.
“In general, we’re looking at running a pipeline to the northeast toward our industrial areas,” Hall said. “That will help replace demands on our drinking water system from industrial uses.”
Hall said in the future, the effects of a drought may have more influence on the community economically as well as environmentally.
“There are going to be big economic impacts if we have another severe drought,” Hall said. “Enhancing our water conservation program, and implementing a water reuse system will help us be more resilient if there is a drought.”
Mayor Nancy Denson said she approved the concept of the water reuse program in order to ensure that citizens have access to adequate water in the event that there is a severe drought in the future.
“The long-term plan, it’s not something that will happen immediately, is that we would create a pool or reservoir or collection for what a lot of people refer to as gray water, that’s not drinkable,” Denson said.
Denson said while the project may finish after she is no longer mayor, she thinks the implementing a water reuse program will be beneficial for Athens citizens.
“In a circumstance where there was drought, or some time in the future as a water saving measure, the water could be piped to plants or areas of landscaping that potable water isn’t necessary," she said. "It would extend the life of the water we have that's drinkable.”
Hall said WCO conducted a risk-based assessment to predict the likely water usage for the next few decades.
“There’s a 25 percent chance that our monthly average withdrawal limit from the reservoir will be exceeded by the year 2020, and a 50 percent chance it will be exceeded by the year 2029,” Hall said. “That means that we’re at risk of not having enough water if there was a drought.”
Scott Connelly, an assistant professor of ecology at UGA, said one problem with the way we use water today is not factoring in times of drought into our levels of consumption.
“One of the big problems with the way we allocate water is that we don’t consider the dry periods into our consumption,” Connelly said. “We just think about the wet periods and consume water with that in mind, and then don’t have enough water when we need it.”
Hall said that as the population in Athens rises and the drought continues, WCO is working hard to continue to use water as efficiently as possible.
“We continually strive to bring down out per-capita water use, but we need to implement this reuse program as part of it.”
Connelly said it is important to consider the growing population when looking for solutions to save water.
“One of the problems that we do have, is that when we come up with technologies like that to help solve a problem, what you really also have to do is acknowledge what the bigger problem is,” Connelly said.
Connelly said one of his biggest concerns with the water shortage in Athens is rapid growth the city is experiencing.
“If you look at Athens, we have a huge amount of new housing going in,” Connelly said. “You really have to wonder if we have the technology to support that.
Despite feeling that water overuse in Athens is a real problem, Connelly said considerations need to be made about other factors, especially population growth.
“It’s great that we’re coming up with technology to reuse water and use this gray water, but we need to be looking at population growth at the same time that we’re looking at this new technology.
Connelly said the project is a step in the right direction, but not a good long-term solution for the water shortage problem.
“It’s a good idea, but if people think it’s going to save the day, they’re being a little bit overly optimistic. We have to combine that with other things, and one of those is the knowledge of what sustainable growth really is.”
Written by: Amy Scott