Thursday, August 21, 2008

Oconee Posts Water Signs to Help Confused Citizens

Sign: Outdoor Watering Allowed

The signs that the Oconee County Utility Department has posted in a small number of subdivisions around the county might seem like an attempt to promote water use, but Utility Department Director Chris Thomas said the intent is quite different.

People in the county are confused about when they are allowed to water, he said, and the Utility Department put up signs this week in four subdivisions and last week in four others to help clarify the rules.

The white signs read: Outdoor Watering Allowed One Day a Week, Call OCUD for Your Scheduled Day." The sign lists the Oconee County Utility Department phone number and web address for the county.

When Thomas appeared before the Board of Commissioners on June 24 to announce the lifting of the outdoor water ban, he said the county would use the last digit of the address to determine when watering was allowed.

The county subsequently found that 90 percent of the addresses in the county ended in either zero or one, so it needed a new system, and the county started using the second to the last digit of the address to determine when people can water.

"With our system, it is a little confusing as to when your day is," Thomas said. "So a lot of people are going by Athens’ schedule, which goes on your last number versus our system, which goes on the first number of the last two numbers."

I told Thomas when I talked to him by telephone Wednesday I thought the sign suggested the county was actually encouraging people to water one day a week.

"We’re producing and selling a fairly decent amount of water," Thomas said. "We’re not necessarily encouraging people to water. What we’re encouraging people to do is, if you’re going to water, try to do it on the schedule that’s there."

Thomas said the Utility Department has been getting two or three calls a week from people complaining about their neighbors watering off schedule. The Department then has to send someone out with a notice, and that is "bad for us."

Thomas said people have been "really good" about following the rules. "When we went to one day a week, it wasn’t like everybody was trying to cheat the system and irrigate, irrigate, irrigate. We didn’t see a large increase."

According to data released by the county recently, the Utility Department saw a significant decrease in water use after restrictions went into place late last summer. In August of 2007, the average demand for water in the county was 4.44 million gallons per day. In December demand was 1.37 MGD, and in May it was 1.79 MGD. That figure had increased only to 2.09 MGD in the first two weeks of June, after the restrictions were eased.

The Utility Department operates as an Enterprise Fund, meaning it is supposed to cover its costs by selling water and treating sewage.

According to Thomas, the signs went up this week in Oconee Crossing, Founders Grove, Lane Creek and Welbrook Farms. I live in Welbrook Farms, and I noticed the sign at the end of the day on Monday.

Thomas said the signs were in Boulder Springs, Oak Lake, Meridian and Christian Lake last week.

Ultimately, the plan is to distribute the signs in all the neighborhoods of the county, according to Thomas. The department only printed six or eight signs, he said. "We didn’t want to spend a lot of money."

Thomas said that people need to check the county web site or call the Utility Department every week before they turn their sprinklers on to make sure the rules have not changed.

The front page of the county web site doesn’t contain the information, however, or even a direct link to it. Rather, a user has to click on "Public Notices" and then on "Water Restrictions as of June 30, 2008" to get to the restrictions themselves and the watering schedule.

According to a story in the Athens Banner-Herald on Tuesday, the Bear Creek Reservoir, from which the Oconee County Utility Department draws most of its water, was 3.6 inches higher this week than at this time a year ago.

Clarke County has had to start drawing from Bear Creek, however, because the flow in the Middle Oconee River, from which it normally gets its water, is so low.

State Climatologist David Stooksbury is quoted in the article as saying even significant rainfall from Tropical Storm Fay would provide only limited relief.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis. Appreciate your continued attention to Oconee Issues.