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Gainesville customers cut use of water by 20 percent
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When it comes to water conservation, Gainesville is right where it should be.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division reported this week that North Georgians used 20 percent less water in June 2008 compared to June 2007, saving almost 180 million gallons of water per day.

The report looked at the 55 counties that still are under Level 4 drought restrictions. The scores of individual cities and counties varied widely, but Gainesville met the average of exactly 20 percent.

Kelly Randall, director of Gainesville Public Utilities, praised the system’s 48,000 customers for adhering to the rules on outdoor watering.

"The customers have done a really good job of conserving," he said. "We’ve only had to cite a few people for violations. It’s not been an issue."

Randall thinks Gainesville will look even better once the data are compiled for August, the hottest month of the year.

"So far this August, we’ve been averaging 18.4 (million gallons) per day," he said. "That’s compared to 24.17 last August. This year it’s been pretty clear that no one is even trying (to keep their lawns green)."

Comparing June 2008 versus June 2007, other large systems in the area also achieved substantial reductions in water use. Atlanta was down 15.1 percent, Gwinnett County was down 24.7 percent, and Athens was down, 22.1 percent.

Almost all water systems recorded a decrease, even if only a few percentage points. But there were a few that increased their water usage. Locally, the largest increase was Dawsonville, which used 28.6 percent more water in June 2008 than in June 2007.

Dawsonville City Administrator Kim Cornelison blamed it on population growth.

"In June 2007, we had 889 customers," she said. "In June 2008, we had 943."

Of course, other cities in the area also added population, yet still managed to reduce their water use. But Cornelison said when a water system is small, it’s easy for the numbers to become statistically skewed.

"If you have 10 customers and you get five more, that’s a 50 percent increase," she said.

Kevin Chambers, spokesman for the EPD, said the agency won’t penalize systems that recorded an increase in water use.

"But we need to investigate what’s going on with those communities," he said.

After a good performance in June, the EPD granted 54 utilities a little more flexibility in their watering restrictions. But Chambers said those communities will have to prove they are continuing to conserve.

"We’re going to look closely at the July and August data," he said. "If we see a significant jump in water use from people who were granted relaxed schedules, we’re going to ratchet it back up again."

Gainesville and other communities that draw their water directly from Lake Lanier are not eligible for the more flexible watering rules. With Lanier already at a record low for this time of year, the EPD is enforcing maximum conservation within the Chattahoochee River basin.