By Guest Columnist TERRY LAWLER, executive director of the Regional Business Coalition of Metropolitan Atlanta
Last month metro Atlanta’s primary source of water reached a milestone: Lake Lanier is back to full pool and rising.
Not only is Lake Lanier full, Lake Allatoona is also full, and every lake on the Chattahoochee, Etowah, Coosa, Ocmulgee, Flint and Oconee rivers are either full or within a foot of being full.
But before we start to celebrate, let’s not forget that our presently abundant water resources can change quickly.
Things were a lot different last year. Last year at this time Lake Lanier was five feet lower and dropping. Over three-quarters of the state was in a “severe” drought. Even just three short months ago, over a third of Georgia was still in an “extreme” drought.
Realizing our good fortune of having a wet winter, Georgia, and the metro Atlanta region in particular, must use this gift as an opportunity to plan for our future.
With the passing of the great recession, metro Atlanta has begun to grow again. Almost weekly there are announcements of new businesses moving to the region and existing businesses expanding. New homes, subdivisions and infill lots are being built. Metro Atlanta colleges and universities continue to enroll and graduate record numbers of students.
Water resource planners have estimated that over the next two decades our region will need millions more gallons of water per day to meet the needs of our growing population and businesses. In fact, metro Atlanta’s water supply demands are forecasted to exceed one billion gallons of water, per day, by 2035.
It is important to recognize that future water supply sources can require decades of planning and significant capital expenditures. These time and financial commitments require immediate planning for the region’s water supply beyond 2035 if they are to be available when the need arrives.
It is also important to note that when determining future water demands, the savings from the metro Atlanta region’s water conservation programs were considered first, prior to looking at additional water supply sources. Each of the sources of water included in the region’s water management plan were evaluated and considered in conjunction with other local water plans, priorities and preferences.
Knowing this, water conservation must play a major role in helping the metro region meet our water resource needs. In fact, planners anticipate that with proper investments in water conservation, the region can reduce water consumption by more than 90 million gallons a day.
One way metro Atlanta businesses and citizens can assist in water conservation efforts is by putting our abundant rainwater to use.
Metro Atlanta receives, on average, over 50 inches of precipitation annually. This is more than Seattle (37), Charlotte (44) or Nashville (48) and more than most other inland cities throughout the U.S.
Metro Atlanta’s chambers of commerce and conservation groups are supporting legislation in the Georgia Legislature that, if passed, will exempt rainwater harvesting equipment from state sales taxes. The sales tax exemption would be applied to rainwater harvesting equipment from 50 gallon water barrels used by homeowners to over 50,000-gallon cisterns for industrial uses.
If just one in 10 metro Atlanta residents and businesses invested in rainwater harvesting, over 25 million gallons per day of water could be saved from our lakes and streams. That’s the annual equivalent of filling almost 8,300 Olympic swimming pools with over 6 feet of water. Those savings are real and are a goal worth achieving.
The percentage of water consumption for outdoor use (21 percent) for single families exceeds all individual forms of indoor water consumption; more than toilets (14 percent), laundry (15 percent) or baths and showers (18 percent). Proper use of rainwater harvesting techniques could have a dramatic impact on the region’s total treated water usage, especially in non-daylight hours.
The metro Atlanta region must engage in an ongoing effort to meet both present and future water needs. A combination of investments in rainwater harvesting, constructing new reservoirs and use of other water conservation technologies will be needed to ensure the metro Atlanta region has an ample supply of water to meet our region’s water needs in 2035 and beyond.
So we should go ahead and celebrate our recent improved water situation. But we should also use this window of opportunity to plan ahead for those days when water may not be so abundant. And investing in rainwater harvesting is an investment that both businesses and homeowners should seriously consider.