Archive for February, 2012

Entire Southeast needs a new strategy for conserving water

February 9, 2012

I ran across this opinion page article in the 12/22 AJC.  I agree wholeheartedly with the premise that something needs to be done about water supply in the southeast US.  I even agree that some of the proposed water management steps are worth doing.  I do not agree that desalinization is near top of the list for supplying water due to it’s energy intensiveness and high capital cost.  With relatively high rainfalls compared to just about anywhere else in the US, rainwater collection can be a viable water supply.  Estimates show that for Metro Atlanta that if adoption rates are similar to other parts of the world where rainwater collection has been embraced that the impact can be 100 million gallons per day.  That’s equivalent to the amount of water projected to be supplied by proposed new reservoirs.  Capital cost and certainly energy consumption is less than with desalinization.



Bob Drew

By John Kominoski

Twenty-five years ago, environmentalist Marc Reisner published “Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water,” which predicted that water resources in the West would be unable to support the growing demand of cities, agriculture and industry.

This book inspired us to explore how water and its infrastructure have transformed the West relative to the East. Our findings have just been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

There are many climatic and geographic differences between the Southeast and the Southwest, but where water is concerned we share a common ground.

Like the Southwest, the Southeast does not have sufficient fresh water capacity to meet its needs. Our research finds that reservoirs in the Southeast have a low capacity to store water because of high evaporation losses. Piedmont cities like Atlanta, Charlotte and Birmingham receive less surface water than coastal urban centers with much larger drainage areas.

As the severe water shortages during the droughts in the summers of 2002, 2005 and 2007 made clear, water supply in the Southeast is dependent upon precipitation, which is likely to be more uncertain in the near future.

In Georgia, we have adopted a Comprehensive Statewide Water Management Plan with two basic goals: 1.) protect public health and environmental quality; and 2.) meet future needs while protecting aquifers, in-stream uses and downstream users.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division is attempting to model the availability of water, so that water councils can make decisions on in-stream needs and human use. More water can be made available through technologies and practices that conserve water.

However, two types of infrastructure are being advocated to increase the availability of water: increasing reservoir density and interbasin transfers. We know that reservoirs in the East are inefficient at storing water, as they are small (in volume) and require regular precipitation to replenish water levels.

Reservoirs also threaten the rich fresh water biodiversity in the Southeast, which requires natural flow patterns to survive. So, building more reservoirs is not a viable long-term solution to sustain water needs for people and the environment.

Similarly, interbasin transfers, the movement of water from one basin to another, will prove insufficient to meet water sustainability goals for Georgia and the Southeast for two simple reasons.

First, because steady precipitation is needed to fill our reservoirs, moving water from onedrought-stressed watershed to another drought-stressed watershed will not provide enough water to fill reservoirs to support population demand, especially given the projected increase indrought frequency in the near future.

Second, increasing per capita water withdrawals in the Piedmont will continue to starve downstream communities and ecosystems of fresh water.

In order for Georgia and other Southeastern states to realize the goals of the state water plan, we need to adaptively manage water within river basins and across state lines. We need a new strategy for water management in the U.S. and the Southeast, which includes new technologies and practices in conservation that allow us to get more from the water that we have.

Water shortages are regional problems that require changes in regional and national water policies to ensure sufficient water for humans and the environment.

In the Southeast, demands for municipal and industrial use are much higher than supported by locally generated stream flow. To address our water problem, we need to reduce our consumption.

We recommend several steps: increased urban conservation and water reclamation; increases in municipal and domestic water-use efficiency; adopting water-efficient irrigation methods; growing drought-tolerant crops; and supplementing municipal water with ocean water desalination for coastal metropolitan areas.

The future of fresh water sustainability is further challenged by climate change and population growth. Georgia, Florida and North Carolina are among the top nine states in population growth in the U.S. This growth will place increased stress on limited water resources in the region.

The demands for water also will increase as temperatures rise (more losses due to evaporation). We need to conserve water and use water more wisely in order to avoid crises.

The good news is that we can choose to avoid tragedy by placing a higher value on water. We must view water as a limited, often unreliable resource. We must include the realistic value of healthy fresh water and coastal ecosystems that rely on fresh water to support fisheries and tourism-based economies and other services.

An approach focused on conservation accepts the fact that new water cannot be created, but it certainly can be managed well.

John Kominoski is a postdoctoral research associate in the Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia.

Also contributing: Tushar Sinha, a postdoctoral scientist at North Carolina State University; William Graf, a professor of Geography at the University of South Carolina; and John Sabo, an associate professor in the School of Life Sciences and a Senior Sustainability Scientist in the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University.


New reservoirs reckless at best

February 9, 2012

The article below by Jenny Hoffner appeared last week in the Atlanta Journal Constitution editorial section entitled Atlanta Forward.  It appeared along with an article by Kevin Clark who is in favor of new reservoirs and water conservation measures a way to improve Georgia’s and metro Atlanta’s water supply issues.

Jenny’s main point about building new reservoirs is that they put an undue financial burden on municipalities who must pay back the cost of constructing a new large reservoir.  Since estimating future water demand may lead to building a large reservoir that is either too big, or too small, Jenny posits that this risk is too high for municipalities to take on and will affect their credit rating/bond rating.

Before addressing these comments and offer an alternative, I was surprised that Jenny did not mention the possibility of using rainwater collection as an alternate water supply.  As stated previously, rainwater collection systems for individual properties are in fact a form of new reservoir with numerous advantages over the large reservoirs most people think about when thinking about reservoirs.  As an alternative to large reservoirs, rainwater collection offers many financial advantages while taking away many environmental downsides of damming rivers to create water supply.  I would encourage American Rivers to look into rainwater collection and advocate their use before damning reservoirs in general.

One advantage of creating smaller, decentralized water supplies using rainwater collection is that they can be scaled to actual water demand.  as growth occurs, more rainwater collection can be implemented to meet this growth rather than trying to guess what demand will be 20 or 50 years from now.  Rainwater collection is largely financed privately to take away the burden on municipalities to provide all the water supply and treatment needs of a community.

I am however an advocate of using some of the State of Georgia’s water money to encourage building of reservoirs of the type I am talking about.  Financing vehicles exist to have some of the state money used to help finance rainwater collection systems.  If a portion of the $300 million were to be put toward loans or direct investment in rainwater collection, we could learn the total impact on water supply.  The projections show that if we can achieve the same level of adoption rate for rainwater collection as in other developed countries, we could rival the water supply impact of a new large reservoir.  If public funds could be used to jump start this trend the eventual impact on water supply and then conservation could be huge and could be a much wiser use of limited public funds. The effect would be a leveraging of public investment since most of the cost of building rainwater collection reservoirs would be largely privately funded in a way that makes sense financially to the property owner.  This would mean less rather than more government spending on infrastructure by encouraging private property owners to create their own water supply.

Please see my other blog  listing in more detail the benefits of rainwater collection over the traditional large reservoir



Bob Drew


New reservoirs reckless at best

By Jenny Hoffner

Communities across Georgia are concerned with securing reliable supplies of clean water for the future, and they are challenged to find the best way forward. To address these issues, Gov. Nathan Deal intends to spend $300 million in state taxpayer money on reservoirs and speculative reservoir planning. While the governor’s approach may sound proactive at first, let’s not mistake just any action on this issue as a step forward. This path amounts to reckless spending of taxpayer money that will leave us no closer to water security than we are today.

As we face an uncertain future, our communities deserve 21st-century solutions, not ones that rely on outdated models from yesteryear. Reservoirs should be the last solution — not the first — that communities reach for to address their water supply needs effectively.

In the wake of the 2008 credit crisis, communities must be more prudent than ever when planning major investments in infrastructure. Financing expensive projects can be the local government equivalent of buying more house than your family can afford. And when a water utility finds itself going under water with reservoir debt, it is the community’s taxpayers and water ratepayers who take the financial hit with rate or tax increases to cover the debt load.

Once locked in to the significant expense of a reservoir and its associated treatment plants, pipes and pumps, a water system loses its financial flexibility. When drought hits, demand forecasts fall short, population projections don’t pan out or other priorities take center stage; adjusting a reservoir plan to accommodate new scenarios and new information is challenging at best.

Reservoirs are expensive, and their costs are consistently underestimated, resulting in significant cost increases. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in October that the city of Canton is so burdened by debt payments on an incomplete reservoir that it is unable to buy firetrucks or complete necessary street repairs. Costs for the Hickory Log Creek Reservoir have risen to five times the original estimate, nearing now $100 million. One city councilman called the municipal debt for the reservoir “a big rock around our neck.”

Unfortunately, it is just this kind of municipal “money pit” that has emerged with several recent water-supply reservoir projects across the Southeast. The trend is a disturbing one for local residents, businesses and government leaders alike.

Nationwide, in fact, reservoirs are risky investments for the public. Just last week, an ongoing effort to convene nationwide water industry experts and public interest groups (including American Rivers) issued a report, “Charting New Waters,” that points out the increasing sensitivity of investors to hidden risks in water-supply systems. Water utilities, which borrow to finance most major projects, are not immune from examination as the financial markets and credit-rating agencies scrutinize various sectors of the economy for previously unseen credit risks. Maintaining financial health and good credit is more important than ever to protect the taxpayers and ratepayers who fund water systems.

Prudent use of taxpayer money demands an honest and rigorous assessment of the full range of water supply options available to a community, including solutions such as conservation, efficiency and interconnections with other water systems. Committing state taxpayer money and Georgia communities to the pursuit of inflexible and financially risky infrastructure is reckless at best and a boondoggle at worst.

Jenny Hoffner is director of the water supply program for American Rivers,

Water Supply,Conservation Vital

February 3, 2012


The article below by Kevin Clark appeared today in the AJC Atlanta Forward editorial page.  Kevin leads Governor Deal’s water supply task force.  You may think that I disagree with what Kevin writes, being the founder of ECOVIE Rainwater Collection Systems and president of SERHSA, a 501C6 non-profit which promotes rainwater collection in Georgia.  On the contrary; I agree with almost everything Kevin states.

I believe that adding water supply is critical to matching metro Atlanta and Georgia’s growth projections and also that conservation is part of the solution.  I believe that new reservoirs are definitely the way to go to provide needed additional water supply.  Why would I say this?  It’s because rainwater collection for homes and business IS a form of reservoir.  Rainwater collection entails much smaller reservoirs than may be being considered in the state plan, but reservoirs nevertheless.   Rainwater collection has a big advantages over large reservoirs in many aspects including:

  • Rainwater collection can be built with mostly private capital in a way that is attrective to private property owners, both residential and commercial.
  • Rainwater collection can be implemented faster than building new reservoirs with the main challenge being achieving meaningful adoption rate to match supply needs.  This has been achieved elsewhere in places such as Germany and Australia, so why not in Georgia?
  • Rainwater collection at adoption rates achieved in the places mentioned above can match the water supply delivered by new large reservoirs.  the figure I like to use is that with a 30% adoption rate, rainwater collection can reach 100 million gallons  a day water supply within 10 years which matches proposals for new reservoirs which would start construction in about 10 years.
  • Reservoirs have very high water loss due to evaporation.  Rainwater collection eliminates this problem since water is stored in tanks either above or below ground.  As an example, Lake Lanier evaporates an estimated average of 120 million gallons a day which is a much as proposed new reservoirs.  This means that using rainwater collection instead of a traditional large reservoir could actually INCREASE downstream water flows in rivers while providing added water supply upstream.
  • Rainwater collection helps recharge depleting groundwater supplies.  Instead of water running off during storms, it is collected for future use to water landscapes and gardens.  This replenishes ground water versus well drilling which depletes it.  Reservoirs do not have the same effect since much of the storm water runs off to cause flooding and water quality issues.  Since rainwater collection replenishes groundwater, there is an added effect of increasing downstream river flows.
  • The effect of rainwater collection on stormwater runoff in itself is a large advantage over collecting water in large reservoirs.  The same 100 mgd that is supplied is water that does not lead to flooding, runoff, and, diminished water quality in our waterways.  This aspect of rainwater collection is the main reason it is considered a “green” technology.  With combined sewer overflows and unwanted contaminants entering our drinking water supply, rainwater collection helps combat these problems.
  • Rainwater collection encourages water conservation.  Private property owners with their own water supply tend to be more judicious in their water use compared to those who merely write a check (albeit sometimes with a grumble) to the water department each month.  This effect further improves our regional water management.
  • Rainwater collection can be considered an interim step to shore up water supply shortages while new larger reservoirs come on line.  While the necessity of large reservoirs may prove less necessary, I do not want to be seen as competing with the concept of large reservoirs.  It is not necessarily an either/or proposition.

As president of SERHSA, I am working with the state and with local governments on the concept of using the loan and direct investment money Kevin mentions below to help private property owners to finance rainwater collection projects.  We would have local governments apply for state funding which in turn would be used to help property owners build their own personal reservoirs.  there are several ways we may do this, including taking advatage of the provisions of SB 122 which targets reservoirs owned by private owners and using PACE type loans in which loans are paid back as part of annual property taxes.  I will update you on this as the ideas develop.  With long term loans at the interst rate Kevin mentions below, property owners will pay less on their loan than they save on their water bill, making rainwater projects a cash flow positive proposition from the start.  In this way, we may see a flourishing of rainwater collection as a viable water supply, helping solve our very real water supply challenges.


I invite your comments.  Please see and




Bob Drew

Water supply, conservation vital



By Kevin Clark

If you have lived in Georgia for long, you have seen our population and economy grow significantly. You have also seen droughts come and go. Hopefully, recent rains are the beginning of the end to our drought conditions.Population growth, economic development and drought place significant demands on our state’s water supply infrastructure. By proactively addressing our water supply issues with new water sources and conservation, we will have enough water to meet the state’s future needs.

With Gov. Nathan Deal’s leadership, Georgia is implementing a plan to ensure we have adequate water supply. The state will support new water supply infrastructure projects, including new and expanded reservoirs, to help capture more of the nearly 50 inches of rain Georgia receives on average each year. Water supply infrastructure projects also include new wells, system interconnections between communities and innovative approaches such as underground aquifers for storage and reuse.

In January 2011, Deal directed the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority to develop the Governor’s Water Supply Program. The purpose of the program is to align and mobilize the state’s resources to assist local governments with developing new water supply sources. With a commitment of $300 million over the next few years, the state will make loans and invest directly in water supply projects, beginning this summer.

But a state plan focused only on water supply infrastructure would be incomplete and ineffective. That’s why we’re pursuing water conservation as well. Conservation efforts have been developed and practiced in the state for many years. Water conservation practices have been required throughout metro Atlanta since 2003.

The Water Stewardship Act of 2010 calls for water conservation efforts by farmers, builders and water systems throughout Georgia. The recently adopted regional water plans outline region-specific water conservation measures as a priority practice for meeting future water needs.

In the past five years, GEFA has provided more than $65 million in low-interest financing for water conservation projects that serve the state’s current and future needs. Recently, we reduced our interest rate for water conservation projects.

Cities and counties can now finance water conservation projects at rates as low as 1.13 percent. GEFA also has $300 million available this year in its water and sewer-financing programs from which water conservation projects can be funded.

A comprehensive solution that includes providing new water supply and practicing conservation is critical to our state. Georgia’s population is projected to grow by an additional 4.6 million people by 2030.

The population increase and the resulting economic development and growth needed to sustain it will place new demands on our water resources. By ensuring adequate supply through new water sources and conservation, we’ll meet Georgia’s water needs.

If we have one, but not the other, then we’ll fail to provide Georgia families and businesses with the water resources they need to thrive.

Kevin Clark is executive director of the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority.