As of 9:15am, October 14, 2009, Lake Lanier has returned to full pool for the first time since October 2005. The lake had reached the 1050.97 foot level on December 8, 2008 and many declared Atlanta’s primary source of water dead. It has risen over 19 feet since then. Most Atlantans are probably sighing in relief as the memory of a four year drought has been replaced by other concerns. Unfortunately the problem is not over. Two other states and a federal judge have made that clear. So what can we do to solve the water problem? We cannot solve the political issues but if we are proactive as individuals we can lessen the impact of any future decisions. What follows are some ideas that you can employ in your own life to not only help water issues but save money.
Atlanta is one of the largest cities with the smallest sources of water. Many large cities started as ports at the mouth of large rivers. Atlanta grew up around transportation. First were the railroads then the interstate highways and then an international airport. Metropolitan Atlanta grew from 1.5 million people in 1960 to over 5 million today.
Water used by Atlantans comes from the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers (ACF River Basin). In the area north of West Point, we withdraw from 700 million to 1 billion gallons per day. We return over 80 percent of that water during months we do not water our lawns and only 66 percent on average during summer months. Non thermoelectric power production (water is used in cooling towers) usage varies from 35 percent to 58 percent. Again during summer months we water crops for agriculture and lawns, so there is not only higher usage as a percentage total but also a larger percentage that is absorbed in the ground and not returned.
This takes us back to the original question. What can Atlantans or other citizens of cities with similar water issues do to help the situation? We consume a large portion of the total water used outside of electric generation and during our heaviest use in the summer months return much less than normal as we water lawns. The largest impact we can make is to rethink our yards particularly lawns. Outside of lawns our consumption of water for use in the home at best only returns 82 percent of the water used. So reduction of water usage in the home is important as well.
During the drought water restrictions prevented all outdoor watering. Most people found out which plants were drought resistant. While lawns did not look as good as normal during the hot summer months they did not die. With spring and fall rain the grass will usually recover. I grew up in Atlanta and nobody had irrigation systems. It may be time to rethink our landscaping. Grass is the number one consumer of residential water that does not get returned to the river basin. We need to consider shrinking lawn size, plant drought resistant grass and employment of drip irrigation. When I lived in Israel our landscaping used very little water and was lush.
In your home the majority of water consumed in the average household is in the shower. 25 to 35 percent is consumed during bathing. The average showerhead delivers 5 to 6 gallons per minute. Higher flow showers became very popular and rain heads can deliver even more. Today there is a wide range of showerheads that use as little as 2.5 gallons per minute without performance degradation.
While selection of the showerhead is important it is not the only factor. Depending on the distance from the water heater to the showerhead the water wasted can be significant. Two possible solutions are a tankless water heater or recirculation water systems. Tankless systems are on demand and located close to the shower. Recirculation water sends water periodically back to the water heater so that hot water is almost immediately available. The downside is an increase in electrical usage, but this can be mitigated with a timer. These can be retrofitted into existing homes. Also gray water recycling could be used but I will discuss this later.
Another area of high usage is water for toilets and vanities. Building code calls for low flow toilets but there are dual flush toilets that can significantly reduce water usage by allowing users to differentiate between solid and liquid waste. Existing toilets can be retrofitted. Vanity faucets waste lots of water as users run water needlessly while brush their teeth. While expensive, motion sensor faucets can reduce significantly water usage. Alternatively family education and awareness can reduce this waste.
The last area I will discuss in this article is grey water recycling. Due to quick growth in Atlanta, construction outstripped sewer capacity. The result was significant use of septic systems. The problem with septic is once used the water is not returned to the river after treatment. The water stays on the property. Long term if municipalities increase sewer capacity the gap of water used and returned.
In the interim, if the water we consume can be used twice it would reduce water loss. There are systems for grey water recycling that take water from showers, vanities or appliances that have no solid waste and treating it. This water is subsequently used in toilets.
To be certain, Atlanta faces an uncertain future with its limited resources and pending legal action. Other cities face the same problem. All these strategies can be employed by individuals while waiting for government solutions that may take years. Most of the ideas discussed will not only help solve our water issues but can save money. Water has been cheap until now, but as resources become scarcer this will change. These are not pie-in-the-sky ideas. Last winter as Lake Lanier reached ever lower levels there was concern that Atlanta would not be able to draw water from Lake Lanier. This is a real problem and incumbent upon all of us to make a difference. For more information:
Author is a builder and developer of Montaluce Winery & Estates in Dahlonega, GA. The Beecham family has been building in Atlanta for 4 generations. Their quality is know throughout the Atlanta area. Montaluce is the Beecham’s first large development project. Montaluce is based around its vineyards, winery and restaurant, all passions of the Beechams. The homes built on the property are built using some of the latest techniques of green building. The development was planned in such a way to preserve more than 60% as either greenspace or agricultural. For more information please check our website http://www.montaluce.com I can also be followed on Twitter @MVineyards
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