Region made progress on water issue in 2010

As we approach the end of the year, pundits, poets and people on the street will soon weigh in with reflections on the past year and the challenges we will confront in the coming one. Water is one of those challenges, and there has been a lot said and written about the political and legal hurdles we have to overcome.

While our political leaders are focused on a resolution to the litigation with Florida and Alabama, we need to remember that the combined amount of water metro Atlanta withdraws from the Chattahoochee and Lake Lanier that is not returned directly to the basin accounts for 1 percent of the flows at the Georgia-Florida state line in normal years. There is enough water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin to meet the needs of all users if all users conserve. And metro Atlanta takes water conservation very seriously.

The news that few seem to notice about metro Atlanta is that in this first decade of the new century, the region has become one of the best water stewards in the country. With less than a decade of aggressive water conservation programs under its belt, metro Atlanta is now recognized as a national model. This is particularly remarkable given that the communities against which Atlanta is often compared established their water conservation programs in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Metro Atlanta is the only major metropolitan area in the country with more than 100 jurisdictions implementing a comprehensive water conservation program that is required and enforced. The Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District’s conservation and supply plan includes best practices ranging from tiered pricing (the more you use, the more you pay) and automatic rain shut-off switches for irrigation systems, to water system leak detection and repair and toilet rebate programs. New car washes are required to recycle water, and multifamily buildings must submeter individual units to help the occupants understand their water use and property managers identify leaks more quickly.

The Metro Water District strengthened its water conservation plans recently with the adoption of additional requirements that include toilet rebates for multifamily buildings, installation of meters with point-of-use leak detection, metering of private fire lines, expedited leak reduction programs and expanded outreach and education.

The results? From 2001 to 2005, per capita water use dropped 10 percent. And despite the fact that the multiyear drought ended two years ago and outdoor water restrictions have eased, water use in North Georgia is still roughly 10 percent lower than it was prior to the onset of the drought.

And, we’ve just begun. As we evaluate the effectiveness of the existing conservation measures in our plan, we will continue to look at other options to reduce demand and use water more efficiently.

Going forward, Georgia’s Water Stewardship Act of 2010 is one of the strongest water conservation legislation measures in the United States, according to American Rivers. Beginning in 2012, only high-efficiency toilets will be for sale in the state, and all public water utilities will be required to use a common methodology to account for real water loss, the first step in understanding how much water is lost due to leaks.

In the meantime, the largely untold story is that metro Atlanta is using less per person than ever of this precious resource. And, no matter the outcome of the litigation, metro Atlanta is committed to becoming best-in-class among metro areas nationwide for its stewardship of its water resources.

Kit Dunlap chairs the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District.