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Students help find ways to inform public at summit
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GAINESVILLE — Gainesville and Hall County students worked with area teachers and others Wednesday to develop a letter about
water conservation to send home to parents.

The effort took place as part of a two-hour "water summit" at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce and a larger effort by the city and county school systems to turn the current drought into an educational exercise.

The information, which may go home after the Thanksgiving holiday next week, would feature
water-saving tips, including checking for leaks around the house and installing low-flow toilets and shower heads.

"Everybody uses water, so everybody needs to work together to conserve water," said Karina Garcia, an eighth-grader at Gainesville Middle School, after the event.

Both school systems have been busy the past month studying about water conservation and the effects of a severe drought, while working what they have learned into public service announcements.

Wednesday’s summit was part of the efforts to keep going what educators have dubbed "authentic" learning.

"As you leave here and you have ideas, talk to your teachers and tell them what those ideas are," Hall schools Superintendent Will Schofield said at the event.

"We’re going to support you. We’re going to provide the time ... and the resources, because I truly believe the people in this room can have some great ideas and can make a huge difference for our community."

Martha Zoller, a WDUN talk show host who also works in the Hall system’s Honors Mentorship Program, led the discussion, which also featured officials from the chamber and Gainesville’s public utilities department.

Some others speaking at the event were Kit Dunlap, president and chief executive officer of the chamber; Kelly Randall and Brian Wiley of the Gainesville public utilities department; Joel Aquino, West Hall High School science teacher; and Kellie Bowen, owner of Full Bloom Nursery in Clermont.

Also, U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Gainesville, spoke by phone to the group.

The supply of adequate water "is one of the issues ... that’s going to be critical for our future," he said. "There are many things that we can do and should do. The government is looking at it in terms of what we can put in place by way of legislation, and the state is doing the same thing.

"But in many respects, it all comes down to forming good habit. And we know from experiments in other areas, whether it be seat belts or smoking, that young people have a tremendous influence on their parents and family units in terms of setting good habits."

Half of the summit focused on hearing from officials who talked about the drought, its effect on Lake Lanier water levels and other issues.

Randall talked about the importance of water conservation at home and the workplace.

"We don’t want this water crisis to turn into an economic crisis as well," he said.

He said water customers use an average of 180 gallons of water per day, through taking showers, using the bathroom, brushing teeth and other activities. If each person used one less gallon per day, the water system would save 130,000 gallons per day.

Bowen talked about outdoor watering, noting that homeowners need to realize that their lawns only need 1 inch of water per week, including what is offered through rainfall.

At the same time, when the drought is over and watering restrictions are eased, "we can’t quit water and let everything die," she said of landscaping. "There needs to be a healthier balance."

The second half of the summit centered on the information that would be sent home.

Students and teachers brainstormed conservation ideas.

Wiley said he believes the main water-saving efforts are checking for leaks, cutting down usage during teeth brushing, washing full loads of dishes and clothes, and taking shorter showers.

Cheryl Smith, a West Hall High teacher who brought nine of her environmental science students to the summit, said she is excited by what could happen as result of Wednesday’s event.

"This will give the students the opportunity to impact the community in a positive way," she said. "It’s an opportunity to be involved — how wonderful."

Smith added, "In environmental science, that’s where the rubber meets the road."