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Homeowners to bear brunt of water savings

By Dave Williams

dave.williams@graypub.com

ATLANTA - North Georgia homeowners must do most of the sacrificing if the region is to comply with Gov. Sonny Perdue's order to cut water use by 10 percent, a regional environmental official said Wednesday.

Since 55 percent of metro Atlanta's water is used inside houses and apartments, that's where most conservation must occur, Pat Stevens, chief environmental planner for the Atlanta Regional Commission, told the agency's governing board during a briefing on the drought.

"Fix that dripping faucet. Fix that leaky toilet," Stevens said. "If everybody does that, I'm sure we'd get to 10 percent overnight."

The governor ordered the 10 percent reduction in water use Tuesday for 61 counties across the northern third of Georgia, carrying the restrictions another step beyond the ban on outdoor watering the state imposed on the region late last month.

Then on Wednesday, in a more modest move, Perdue called on state agencies to set an example by cutting their use of water by 10 percent to 15 percent.

"I know that's tough," the governor said during a news conference at West Point Lake, another rapidly shrinking reservoir on the Chattahoochee River managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "But I know that we can do it."

Stevens said local water systems have reduced consumption by up to 24 percent since the outdoor watering restrictions began.

But with cooler temperatures settling in for the winter, she said there won't be much outdoor watering.

Stevens said that's why homeowners should focus on reducing the water they use indoors to comply with the governor's order. The 10-percent cut is based on last winter's usage, not the peak usage that occurs during the summer, she said.

In his order, Perdue left it up to local systems to decide how to achieve the reductions rather than targeting specific businesses or industries.

Jack Dozier, executive director of the Georgia Association of Water Professionals, said that's the right way to go.

"We've argued all along that there shouldn't be a one-size-fits-all approach," he said.

Dozier said systems with large industrial customers will have to rely on them for most of their water-use reductions. He said a good example is Dalton Utilities, which sells 80 percent of its water to the carpet industry.

On the other hand, Dozier said, residential communities will lean heavily on homeowners to reach the 10-percent cut.

The Alpharetta City Council responded accordingly this week, approving a proposal to eliminate exemptions to the outdoor watering ban imposed by the state.

Homeowners there won't be allowed to sprinkle their lawns, even if their landscaping is new and commercially installed.

Perdue used Wednesday's lakeshore announcement to continue his criticism of the Corps for releasing more water downstream from Lake Lanier than he and other state officials say is necessary to protect two endangered species of mussels in Florida.

Georgia filed suit in federal court late last week seeking a reduction in those releases, and the governor has called on President Bush to intervene with the Corps on the state's behalf.

Perdue acknowledged the rain falling at West Point Lake as he spoke, but he said it's not helping to relieve the drought in North Georgia because of the Corps' mismanagement of Lanier and the other reservoirs along the Chattahoochee River.

"This rain doesn't make a bit of difference," he said. "We can't store excess rainwater. It all gets flushed downstream."