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Gainesville meets to reduce water use
Watering ban violators may get fine, no warning
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With water shortages becoming more of a reality, local and state officials are becoming more proactive in conserving the water supply.

The Gainesville City Council will hold a called meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday to discuss tighter watering restrictions. Horace Gee, the city’s environmental services administrator, said the city will most likely cut out the provision that allows for a warning for first-time watering ban violators. If the ordinance is revised, first offenders will automatically get a $50 fine.

"We were just spending too much time doing these warning letters and taking up too much staff time and getting nothing for it," Gee said.

Since Oct. 2, when the city started a 24-hour patrol for violators of the ban, the city has issued 494 citations. Only 10 of those have incurred a fine for a second offense.

"We thought it would be more efficient if we had a fine, and then that way we may not have to do 400-and-some-odd warnings," Gee said.

The call for the council meeting preceded Gov. Sonny Perdue’s order that permit holders in 61 North Georgia counties reduce their water withdrawals by 10 percent. The governor’s order will go into effect on Nov. 1, and the 10-percent reduction is based on the permit holder’s water use from December 2006 through March 2007.

"In this unprecedented drought, we all have to pitch in and find ways to conserve our most precious resource," Perdue said in a press release Tuesday.

"I encourage all Georgians to make their dry lawns and dirty cars a badge of honor," Perdue said. "By making individual conservation efforts, along with reasonable solutions from our federal government, we can collectively help to ensure that our water supply is sufficient."

Director of Gainesville’s Public Utilities Department Kelly Randall said city officials will need to meet with water customers and find more ways to reduce area water usage and meet the governor’s requirements.

"We’ll take a look at (the order) and see what we need to do, and we’ll make every effort to comply," Randall said.

But Gainesville officials had begun to take measures to reduce water use before the state mandated the 10-percent reduction.

To keep residential water use, which is 38 percent of the city’s water use, in check, the utilities department created a position earlier in the year for an account auditor. Starting on Monday, the auditor will watch water use in residential areas and assess whether a customer’s use is above the average household use.

If it is, then the auditor will contact the customer to find out why the use is so high, Gee said.

The auditor will also educate water customers on how to conserve water in their homes.

"Mainly (the auditor’s) focus is going to be on residential stuff and public education to homeowner associations and to schools, so we get more focus on our residential side," Gee said.

Residential water customers comprise about 90 percent of the utilities’ customer base, but general industry, which is less than 1 percent of the department’s customer base, uses the same amount of water as all the residents combined.

Because general industry uses so much water, Gee contacted industry officials last week to see how they could begin conserving water. He said he contacted the top 25 water users in the city, with the exception of the hospital, to see how the businesses would cut their water use by up to 25 percent if they had to.

Gee said he did not get a positive response from any of the companies.

Fieldale Farms, Pilgrim’s Pride and Mar Jac processing — all poultry companies — are the top three water users in the city. But poultry industry officials have already cut almost as much water from their production as possible, Gee said.

Even other industries, who are not mandated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to use a certain amount of water in their business, said they need the water they use, too.

"Even the other industrial customers ... everyone we called on said ‘yes, we could cut back 20-25 percent if y’all told us we had to, but it’s going to mean jobs,’" Gee said. "Every single one, and we were a little shocked at that."

Unless the state tells Gainesville officials where to make the cuts, Gee said the city will restrict water use from the larger water users first and try to impact small businesses as little as possible.

"(Smaller businesses) couldn’t absorb it nearly as easily as a large corporation," Gee said. "They’ve got notes and stuff they’ve got to pay, and it depends on what they do everyday. That’s what we’re trying to prevent is that kind of impact — putting people out of business."

However, Gee did not say exactly how water use will be cut.

"We’re looking at all avenues, but every road we take it’s getting tougher," Gee said.

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