Although Gainesville officials returned to observing the state’s level 4 drought restrictions several months ago, the City Council did not make the move official until Tuesday.
Last November when Gov. Sonny Perdue’s mandate called for a 10 percent reduction in Northeast Georgia’s winter water use averages, the Gainesville Public Utilities Department worked quickly to draft a resolution that would further restrict Gainesville residents’ and business owners’ ability to use water.
This was one month after the director of the state’s Environmental Protection Division required more than 50 Northeast Georgia counties to observe level 4 drought restrictions.
Then the department’s director, Kelly Randall, proposed — and the City Council passed — a list of 14 recommendations that restricted annexations and new developments that would need more water from the utility, urged schools to use paper plates and prohibited commercial car washes from operating unless they either recycled water or could show that they reduced their water use by 10 percent each month.
The citywide restrictions allowed Gainesville’s Public Utilities Department to meet the governor’s mandate nearly every month it was imposed.
The only time the city did not meet the mandate was in the month of November — the first month the governor required the 10 percent reduction.
When Perdue removed the mandate and returned most of Northeast Georgia to the regular level 4 restrictions, which allow Hall County residents to hand-water for 25 minutes every other day depending on their address, the city’s Public Utilities Department did, too — just not officially.
"We have been following the state response for some time," Randall said. "(Tuesday’s) resolution really just formally brought us to the same place that the state restrictions were."
A month-old state law keeps city governments from having tighter watering restrictions than the state’s unless city officials apply for an exemption. The law required the city to bring the books up to speed with what utilities officials have been doing since April, Randall said.
"In a nutshell, there’s really no changes in what we’ve been doing at all," Randall said of Tuesday’s resolution, passed unanimously by the City Council.
The resolution may be a friendly reminder to city residents who do not know what watering restrictions to follow.
Even though Gainesville’s water use is down by about 4 million gallons per day compared to June of last year, Gainesville’s Water Conservation Specialist Scarlett Fuller says that the number of customers the department charged for violating water restrictions has risen with the temperature.
"Definitely, (water restriction violators) have increased since it warmed up and people started planting stuff," Fuller said. "In the dead of winter, there really wasn’t anything at all going on."
First-time violators receive a $50 surcharge on their monthly water bills; repeat offenders have their water service terminated and are charged $200.
In February, the department did not charge anyone for violating outdoor water restrictions. In May, the number of violators rose to 14. Already in June the department has placed surcharges on the bills of 19 customers who violated the state’s watering restrictions, Fuller said.
But Fuller does not want to police water customers; she only wants to educate them on how to conserve water and keep a nice landscape at the same time.
Already, Fuller has given three rain barrel workshops and says she spends most of her days answering water customers’ questions about water restrictions and exemptions.
"We want (water customers) to be involved in this whole conservation thing and involved with helping all of us make it through the drought," Fuller said.