Gainesville's public utilities department has discovered one way to get people to save water: Offer them money. The department is expanding a program to give credits on water bills for installing water-saving plumbing devices.
The department has been offering its plumbing retrofitting program since April, but until now it has only been available to single-family residences. The program's budget is nearly double what it was last fiscal year. Given the increase, the program will expand to include governmental and institutional accounts and offer more savings for waterless plumbing fixtures.
Gainesville City Council passed a drought-response resolution on Nov. 6 that expanded the program, among other water-conserving measures. The resolution was an effort to meet state-mandated cuts after Gov. Sonny Perdue cut the city's water withdrawal permit to 15.82 million gallons per day.
Since then, the department has given rebates for seven, newly purchased low-flow toilets. Brian Wiley, the city's environmental monitoring coordinator, has had five calls about waterless urinals, and three apartment complexes have called about low-flow toilets.
"Everybody's interested in it; everybody wants to know about it," Wiley said.
Currently, the public utilities department pays a $75 rebate for the installment of each low-flow toilet in a single-family residence. The utility credits up to three toilets per household.
For those who do not have the budget for a new toilet, the utility department offers free toilet displacement bags. The bags, when filled with water and placed in the tank, save one gallon of water with every flush.
"They're still saving water, and at the same time you're not punishing somebody just because their income may not allow them to do it all at the same time," Wiley said. "It's kind of a quick, easy fix."
Wiley said the public utilities department encourages the purchase of low-flow toilets, because the toilet uses more water in the house on a daily basis than any other plumbing fixture.
The department also will expand the rebate program in the next year to include governmental and institutional accounts, such as apartment complexes. The department previously offered the program only to residential customers because the $10,000 budget did not allow for it, Wiley said.
"The problem is ... if I owned an apartment complex and I've got 30 units in there, and we've got a budget for $10,000, well you just blew a large part of your budget doing those apartment complexes," Wiley said.
Even with twice the budget, the department probably will have to pay rebates for institutional toilets in phases, instead of all at once, Wiley said. That would keep enough money in the budget for residents who want to participate in the program.
In expanding the program to institutional facilities, the department will encourage waterless fixtures by offering a bigger rebate, $125, for installation of those. The price of a waterless urinal can range from $300 to $600, Wiley said, but proponents say the fixture pays for itself in water savings.
The Hall County School system installed waterless urinals at Jones Elementary School almost a month ago, and the Hall County schools' superintendent said they have been a success. "We're very encouraged by what we see so far," Will Schofield said.
He said the system plans to install waterless urinals in West Hall Middle and West Hall High schools. Schofield said the urinals will pay for themselves in water savings in less than a three year period. "It's kind of a no-brainer," he said.
But Wiley does not want people to save water only at the flush of the toilet. He gives out free water conservation kits to all those who participate in the program. The kit includes a low-flow shower head, aerators for kitchen and bathroom faucets and dye tablets to check for toilet leaks. "The sky's the limit right now with water conservation," Wiley said.