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Gainesville hears 14 ways to cut water use
Conserving, but not enough: Public utilities director has ways to save more water
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GAINESVILLE — Gainesville’s public utilities director recommended Thursday that the city restrict water for new annexations and developments for the near future.

That was one of 14 recommendations Kelly Randall gave the City Council to help it reduce water withdrawals by 10 percent, a state mandate that took effect Thursday. Gainesville supplies water to much of Hall County and its cities.

"They can certainly move forward with hearings and doing rezonings," Randall said. "But it will be with the understanding that currently there is no permit in our community to be able to provide that (water) service."

Randall and City Manager Bryan Shuler emphasized that this suggestion would not affect approved projects, only future rezonings.

Randall proposed to continue approving projects on sanitary sewer, because that system returns treated wastewater to Lake Lanier, which is suffering through a historic drought. However, that stipulation will have to be discussed with state officials, he said.

Randall told council members Thursday that the city’s water withdrawal permit has been reduced from 35 million gallons per day to an average of 15.82 million gallons per day.

The new number is based on the city’s average daily water use from December 2006 to March 2007.

He said the city used an average of 17.83 gallons per day during October, the first full month of level four watering restrictions, which bar most outdoor watering. The reduction was nearly 2 million gallons per day, or 9 percent, less than in October 2006. But, Randall said, Gainesville needs to cut another 2 million gallons per day to meet Gov. Sonny Perdue’s mandate.

"It’s going to be extremely difficult," Randall said.

The city needs to look at reducing residential water usage, or industry usage will have to use less water, he said.

Randall’s 14 recommendations include buying locks for fire hydrants to reduce or eliminate water theft, and to have hydrant meter holders submit meter readings every two weeks.

Currently, the meter holders call their readings in monthly and bring the meter in every three months for verification.

The city should step up its public relations and water conservation program, Randall said.

That could include buying and distributing shower timers, creating sheets with water saving tips for businesses to stuff in bill envelopes, and seek out trade, church and civic groups for water conservation programs.

The city should also create signs for people using alternative sources of water to put on their property, and for those who have just had their property professionally landscaped, Randall said.

The city’s toilet buyback program should be expanded to institutions and governmental agencies. Randall said. Currently the public utilities department gives a $75 rebate to people who install a low-flow fixture in their homes, but it should consider a $125 rebate for those installing waterless fixtures.

"That program has really targeted the residential market," Randall said. "We think that in this situation we ought to expand that program and allow institutional and governmental agencies to take advantage of that program."

The city should audit water use in the local schools and find ways to conserve water there, such as asking the schools to use paper plates in the cafeterias.

"Some of the schools have been there quite a while and don’t have low-flow fixtures," Randall said.

The city should maximize reuse water for Public Works and Public Utility projects, along with utilizing reuse water for paving contractors and the Georgia Department of Transportation.

"A good argument that could be made that if you have an industry that buys water from us, gives us back every gallon they bought, we treat it and put it in the lake, then that industry ought to be exempt," Randall said. "Because it’s not really doing anything from a conservation standpoint."

Randall said he would have to talk to state officials to see if that exemption is possible.

The public utilities department should expand the residential water audit program to large institutional, commercial, industrial and governmental accounts.

"If we go and knock on the door and say ‘hey, we’re here, we’re willing to work with you’ I think we will have a lot of takers as opposed to maybe waiting for somebody to call us," Randall said. "We’ll do whatever we need to do."

There will be a meeting with the city’s 50 largest water users at the Georgia Mountains Center.

"When you look at our 50 largest users, that’s a whole lot of families in Gainesville-Hall County that are represented by those businesses," Randall said. "If people don’t conserve in their homes, it may come back to their jobs."

The city should prohibit commercial car washes, except those that recycle their water, Randall said, which a vast majority of car washes already do.

The city should wash city vehicles only in emergencies and only at places that recycle water, Randall said. Randall said some city vehicles won’t fit in commercial car washes, but they could be washed in a place that would return the water to the city’s sewer system.

The city should review irrigation meter accounts monthly and address those that are still using water immediately.

The city should ban pressure washing of driveways, Randall said, and exempt service stations only if there is an environmental issue.

The 30-day watering period allowed for new landscaping should be restricted to Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in daylight hours.

"The landscapers basically indicated that somebody who is going to water 30 days in a row is being irresponsible with the water," Randall said. "But the plants do need a boost every other day or so."

Randall said the change would reduce water use, and still recognize that landscaping is an important industry.

Randall said his department may have to come back to the council later and tighten restrictions again.

The council decided that Randall should draft a resolution for the council to formally adopt at Tuesday’s council meeting.

"Obviously, that gives anyone concerned about any aspect of these proposals an opportunity in a formal meeting with the council to air those concerns to you," Shuler said.

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