Archive for July, 2011

Drought Back in Atlanta?

July 29, 2011

I just checked year to date rainfall in Atlanta and found that we are around 8″ below average for this time of year.  This means that rainwater collection becomes more important for providing needed water for landscapes as well as continuing to control runoff during those not so infrequent gully washers.  We have about 23″ of rainfall so far from the source I checked versus 31″ normally.  Below is added news from the AJC on Lake Lanier levels

Lake Lanier reported lowest level since 2009

By Associated Press

For the AJC

 The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says Lake Lanier has dropped to a level it hasn’t been at since a two-year drought ended in 2009.Data from the Corps shows the North Georgia reservoir stood at 1,066.87 feet above sea level on Sunday. Summer full pool is 1,071 feet above sea level. Georgia Power reports the lake at 1,066.81 feet early Monday.The last time the lake was reported at a lower elevation was Sept. 20, 2009, when the level was 1,065.55 feet.

The U.S. Drought Monitor says much of Georgia is experiencing severe drought.


Turning Rain into Cash Flow

July 26, 2011

Turning rain into cash flow

5:43 am July 26, 2011, by Henry Unger

Worried about metro Atlanta’s future water supply? Higher water rates?

Two local entrepreneurs have teamed up to do something about it — and make money in the process.

Randy KaukRandy Kauk

Randy Kauk and Bob Drew are collecting and distributing one of Mother Nature’s most precious gifts — rainwater.

Kauk’s Cumming-based firm, RainHarvest Systems, sells the necessary equipment to businesses and homeowners. Drew’s Atlanta-based company, Ecovie, engineers and installs the systems.

Both have seen explosive growth, which they believe is just the beginning for an industry in its infancy.

“We started as a result of the drought,” Kauk, 49, said. “I think we can be a solution to the water crisis.”

Instead of letting rainwater escape after it hits roofs, roads and other hard surfaces, the systems capture, treat and distribute it to reduce usage costs and conserve water.

One customer, the Atlanta Braves, is trying to reduce its $1 million-plus annual water bill.

Bob DrewBob Drew

“It makes financial sense and environmental sense,” said Mike Plant, the team’s executive VP of business operations.

The big expense for the Braves, Plant explained, does not come from watering the field, as I’d thought. Instead, it’s the pressure washing of the seating bowl and plaza area that guzzles the most water.

Starting in May, the Braves experimented with a 1,500-gallon collection tank that is expected to save about 20,000 gallons over the season.

“It showed the power of the idea,” Plant said. Now, the team is planning at least 10 more tanks to multiply the savings.

Homeowners can benefit, too. Just last week, the city of Atlanta held a public hearing on whether to establish a permitting process to allow homeowners to drink, wash and bathe with rainwater. Currently, the water can be used for toilets and laundry inside, and anywhere outside. With special treatment and permission, it also can be used for drinking, cooking and bathing.

Drew, 49, estimates that the average homeowner might spend $10,000 to $15,000 on a system, including installation. It could take four to eight years to recoup the investment from lower water bills, he said, not counting the likely increase in the home’s resale value.

But there can be wide variations in the return on investment, Drew said, depending on the scope of the system installed, water usage and rates.

Kauk’s company supplies the four essential products: Holding tanks (from 700 to 50,000 gallons each), filters for cleaning, pumps and pipes for distribution, and the controls to run the system.

He got started in the business after getting frustrated while equipping his Lake Lanier home. He discovered that there was no central supplier for all of the equipment.

“It took 10 companies to find everything I needed,” he said.

That led Kauk to launch his own firm, which he said is now the country’s biggest supplier. From $180,000 in his initial year of 2007, Kauk expects revenue to hit about $5 million this year.

Drew expects his three-year-old company to reach about $750,000 in sales his year.

“The potential for growth is astronomical, given metro Atlanta’s water-supply challenges and high water rates,” he said.

– Henry Unger, The Biz Beat

City considers allowing homeowners to use rainwater

July 21, 2011

ATLANTA NEWS 5:59 p.m. Wednesday, July 20, 2011

By Ernie Suggs

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Mary Stouffer once hated rainy days. They flooded her Virginia-Highland basement and created havoc. Rain works for her now. Rainy days are good days.

Stouffer is one of the few people in metro Atlanta who harvests rainwater for drinking and cooking. She’s a reason the Atlanta City Council will hold a public hearing Thursday seeking feedback for a permit process that would enable any of its 100,000-plus water customers to seek this natural alternative.

“I just didn’t want to be another person soaking up the water when we have so much rainwater,” Stouffer said. “Before, when it rained, I was fearful that I would get flooded. Now I am joyful when it rains, because it fills my tanks.”

Stouffer already has a permit that allows her to collect rainwater for drinking. She had a system installed at her home in February last year after she received special permission from the city to experiment with the process.

If pursued under a wider scope, Atlanta would become the first city nationally to write its own ordinance enabling home owners to use rainwater for drinking, washing and bathing, said Jenah Zweig, Office of Sustainability project manager. Portland, Ore., operates under a rainwater ordinance that was approved by the state.

“There is a worldwide shortage of water and it is just starting to hit the U.S.,”  said Bob Boulware, former president for the American Rainwater Catchment System Association and founder of Design-Aire Engineering in Indianapolis. “I am seeing water be what energy was 30 years ago. … Atlanta, and Georgia, seeing that water shortages are an urgent issue, has gotten out ahead.”

Several cities in California and the Southwest are also looking into similar projects, Boulware said.

In Georgia, rainwater use for irrigation and flushing toilets was allowed by a 2009 amendment to the international plumbing code that didn’t address everything.

“The amendment said nothing about drinking water, so we were in a gray area,” Zweig said. “But if you collect water from the roof of your house, it might not be safe. From a regulatory standpoint, rainwater untreated is not something you want to be drinking.”

A new ordinance would create a permitting and regulating system for Atlanta homeowners who want to harvest their own drinking water and potentially cut down on their water bills.

However, a home water system is not cheap. Stouffer’s cost between $12,000 and $15,000, meaning any actual savings won’t be incurred for another decade.

Stouffer was remodeling her home and backyard while trying to address the constant flooding of her property when she decided to go with her own water system and gained approval.

“We had a lot of runoff and instead of flooding my basement I wanted to capture and use it. … I wanted another choice, so we turned lemons into lemonade,” Stouffer said.

Bob Drew, the founder of EcoVie Environmental, installed the system, which consists of two 1,700-gallon tanks. When it rains, water is collected from Stouffer’s roof through an elaborate system of gutters and pipes.

The first 20 gallons, filled with leaves and bird droppings, are flushed away. The remaining water goes through filters to remove pollen and dirt. Once the water makes it inside the home, it is filtered at least three more times.

“I think it tastes better than city water,” Drew said of his filtered rainwater. “No chlorine. No trace elements. But that is just my opinion. This is a well-designed system. No health risks at all.”

Dennis Lye, a Cincinnati-based research microbiologist with the Environmental Protection Agency, said the federal government now recognizes rainwater as an alternative source of water.

“It is not dangerous at all, as long as you have a treatment process; water collected off the roof is not as contaminated as ground or river water,” Lye said. “It has not been accepted, because there is no history of it. Local and state agencies are ignorant of the process.

“But it is just a matter of education and there is a groundswell of support for it.”

Atlanta’s potable rainwater ordinance could be national model

July 20, 2011

This is from Ken Edelstein of the Green Business Chronicle.  Thanks Ken for a very fine piece.  Updates to this article can be found at:

The City of Atlanta will dip its toes into a potentially controversial issue late Thursday as the Council’s City Utilities Committee holds a public hearing on permitting rainwater harvesting systems designed to provide water inside the home.

The move would give the city a tool to reduce the amount of water residents use, while it would provide builders and renovators with another green feature to offer homeowners concerned about sustainability

proposed ordinance developed by advocates and city officials seeks to establish fees on “potable rainwater catchment systems for residential use.” In other words, it wouldn’t apply to the barrels and tanks that many homeowners have installed over the last decade to supply water for their gardens and lawns. Those systems would remain free from fees and regulation.

Cobb County Water System’s Earnest Earn, Ecovie’s Bob Drew and Jessica Lee Reece, an attorney with Smith Gambrell & Russell spoke at the July 8 Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable on rainwater harvesting. Photo by Ken Edelstein

What the ordinance would do is set up a permitting system to treat rainwater and to use it inside the house for all uses including drinking water.  Using rainwater for indoor non-potable uses such as toilet flushing and laundry is already covered in Georgia State plumbing code. The potentially controversial part regards what happens next: Household water must then be disposed of through the sewers and treated as wastewater, which means there’s a public cost.

In Atlanta, as well as other municipalities in Georgia, potable rainwater systems currently live in a sort of purgatory: They’re not illegal to install, but there’s no permitting system that allows them to be operated.  It is up to local officials to decide whether or not to allow a potable rainwater system.

“There’s nothing saying you can’t do it,” says Bob Drew, the CEO of Ecovie Environmental Inc. and a prime mover behind the proposal. “But the way it stands right now is that if I want to install a system, I need to convince someone in the local jurisdiction that we ought to be allowed to do it.”

Drew is something of an evangelistic for potable rainwater systems. Earlier this month, as a speaker at the Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable, he noted that rainwater systems in general have become popular in Australia, Germany and other parts of the world facing tight water supplies. In the Carribean, potable systems are ubiquitous because rainwater is virtually the only source of water.  And, he argued, widespread acceptance of rainwater systems could provide as much water to the metro area as a major reservoir at much less public cost and none of the environmental problems.

Last year, Drew’s company obtained a building permit to install one of its potable systems in an existing Atlanta home with the idea that it would be covered under the pending ordinance.  Mandy Mahoney and Jenah Zweig of the Department of Sustainability, Melinda Langston of Watershed Management, others at City Hall along with Drew and national rainwater experts put together the ordinance to spell out the technical requirements of a well designed and maintained potable rainwater system.

The proposed approach mandates proper treatment and plumbing standards for rainwater if it’s to be used for household purposes, and it protects the city from liability in case the systems aren’t operated correctly. It draws on guidelines already in place in Portland, Oregon, and the state of Texas, but it’s also being heralded as a potential model in its own right.

“Other cities … are referring to this Atlanta City Ordinance as a format for the preparation of similar ordinances in areas across the United States,” EPA microbiologist Dennis J. Lye, who helped to develop the proposal, recently wrote to Utilities Committee Chairwoman Natilyn Archibong.

The fee structure that city officials have come up with as part of the plan already has drawn some criticism, however. At that July 8 Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable meeting, one audience member warned advocates that they’d better hope “the Tea Partiers” don’t hear about the proposed fee.

City officials say they’ve attempted to design a fee structure that would ensure lower sewer rates than most other people pay. Sewer fees typically are assessed based on how much city water a property owner uses, according to the water meter — on the theory that “what comes in goes out,” as Drew puts it. Because metering rainwater would be burdensome administratively and costly, the city has proposed to base sewer fees for potable rainwater systems on the systems’ storage capacity.

Drew admits that he’d rather the city not charge homeowners for sewer service from potable rainwater because the amount money recovered is likely to be small at this point and because those homeowners are investing in something that helps the city with water conservation.

That said he and other advocates say they’re willing to live with the capacity-based system the city has proposed — although Drew is still concerned that under some scenarios homeowners with potable systems could end up paying more for sewage disposal. He expects the fee structure to be the main subject of discussion at tomorrow evening’s meeting.

Georgia Gets More Time To Work On Water Conservation; But Water Wars Are Not Ove

July 6, 2011

 Hi All,  

After being out of town the past two weeks I had not had a chance to keep up with the news last week on the 11th circuit court ruling.  I spent a lot of time today catching up on this major news regarding Atlanta water supply.  This is the article which I felt best captured the current situation regarding this development.  Great job Steve and Jessica.

When I blog post articles I always like to add my own comments.  In this case, some of the key things to glean as it relates to rainwater collection for Metro Atlanta are:
1.  we have a shortfall in water supply over the next 25 years regardless of the Lake Lanier outcome.  From the current use of 652 MGD, with an expected average growth in demand of 2%, we will need an additional 325 MGD by 2035.  Add to this any Lake Lanier restriction that may come from the US Army Corps of engineers analysis 1 year from now.
2.  I was surprised to learn from this article that the situation may be much more urgent than the numbers above suggest.  As Steve and Jessica point out, “Without adequate planning and more efficient use of the region’s water resources, the demands of population growth could lead to exhaustion of available water supplies as soon as 2017.”  Based on this projection, the Lake Lanier decision of last week may not be doing us any favors to create the burning platform required to work together to find solutions and to plan for efficient use of our water resources.
3.  We need to show real effort towrd finding solutions through alternate water supply and conservation in order to maximize our access to Lake Lanier.  That’s where rainwater collection can help.  By my own projection based on adoption rates for rainwater collection achieved in two other developed countries over the last 10-15 years, namely Australia and Germany, we can deliver 100 mgd with rainwater collection by 2021.  There is upside to this projection in the amount of rainwater each home and business can supply.  There is also upside in the psychological affect on water usage caused by managing your own water supply.  From my own observation (anecdotal I know), you are much more prudent with water use if you have collected it yourself.  The downside to my projection is whether Metro Atlanta can match the 30-50% adoption rates achieved in Australia and Germany.  To do this will require a major shift in awareness and attitude toward the seriousness of our water supply shortage and toward rainwater collection as a solution.  I would like to think that we can match or even exceed the results achieved elsewhere.
Please let me know any viewpoints you may have on this whether they agree with mine or not.  After all, that the reason I write this blog.
Here is the article from the ABC

By Guest Columnist STEVE O’DAY, section head of environmental and sustainability practice group for Smith Gambrell & Russell

If you are sitting back thinking the most recent decision in the Water Wars means Atlanta’s worries are over, turn off that faucet and think again.

Last Tuesday, a three-judge panel for the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s 2009 decision that it was illegal for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) to draw water from Lake Lanier to benefit the metro Atlanta area and otherwise relieved Georgia from the “draconian” obligation to work out water issues with Alabama and Florida by July 2012 or be cut off from the reservoir.

The decision also provides Georgia with a strong bargaining chip in negotiations with Alabama and Florida: the panel specifically recognized that the legislation authorizing Buford Dam anticipated that the metro area would need greater withdrawals from the lake over time, a hotly-contested fact among the three states.

Winning a battle does not, however, mean the war is over.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has already announced he will ask the entire Eleventh Circuit court to reconsider the panel’s decision. If that fails, the decision can—and likely will—be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Alabama has asked U.S District Judge Karen Bowdre in Alabama to lift the stay of its lawsuit with Georgia over waters in another basin that provides drinking water to metro Atlanta–the ACT (Alabama, Coosa, Tallapoosa) Basin.

The 11th Circuit decision also places the burden squarely on the Corps to decide, within one year, how to allocate the water in Lake Lanier. The water allocation plan will still impose restrictions on the amount of water that can be withdrawn and allocated to municipal water use.

Moreover, it’s important to remember that it was the failure of the Corps to respond to Georgia’s request that it increase metro Atlanta’s share of water in Lake Lanier in 2000 to help meet the increasing demands of the metro Atlanta area, that re-started the Tri-State Water Wars.

If the past is any indication of the future, it is very likely that the Corps’ water allocation plan will not provide Georgia with unfettered access to Lake Lanier, without a demonstration from the state, and metro area, that it is taking usage of this resource seriously.

For these reasons, and others, Georgia should continue down the path of fully implementing water conservation practices and investment in infrastructure upgrades, while continuing to negotiate for a fair allocation of water usage to all the competing interests in the river basins.

It is clear that, on the heels of record-breaking droughts and amidst record-breaking population growth, the Southeast is facing serious concerns regarding water.

In the metro Atlanta area alone, approximately 652 million gallons of water are used every day and it is predicted that in Georgia’s 16-county Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District, the population will increase to nearly eight million by 2030.

Without adequate planning and more efficient use of the region’s water resources, the demands of population growth could lead to exhaustion of available water supplies as soon as 2017.

Accordingly, while last Tuesday’s decision is certainly a plus in Georgia’s column, rather than shouting the “victory” from the rooftops, residents and representatives are well advised to recognize this decision for what it really is: extra time on the clock.

It is time to take accountability for our water usage. We must do this by instituting additional conservation practices in addition to diligent implementation – not relaxation – of the clean water laws protecting our water resources that are critical not only to our economic, but also our personal, well-being.

Smith Gambrell & Russell associate Jessica Lee Reece contributed to this column.

Rainwater Collection to Be Discussed as Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable

July 5, 2011


7:30 – 9:00am
(Doors Open at 7:00am for Networking)

July 8, 2011

Rainwater harvesting systems help solve potable water, non-potable water, stormwater and energy challenges throughout the world. However, the Southeastern United States lags behind other areas in implementing both passive and active catchment systems. This Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable will examine the status of rainwater harvesting in the Atlanta region and how it can be a viable part of the region’s integrated water conservation and resource management strategies. Our speakers will provide expertise on some of the legal and institutional challenges to implementing rainwater harvesting projects. The panel will also lead discussion on how to encourage further adoption of rainwater harvesting through local development plans and policies.
Ernest Earn, Senior Project Manager, Cobb County Water Systems
Bob Drew, Founder, EcoVie Environmental
Jessica Lee Reece, Associate, Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP