Toilet proposal has BOC flushed
Commissioners at odds over effectiveness, cost of offering rebates for low-flow devices

LAWRENCEVILLE - A water conservation measure that would offer $100 rebates to residents who replace their toilets with low-flow alternatives could cost the county $20 million, Gwinnett's commission chairman said.

Chairman Charles Bannister said he is concerned about the resolution, which would fine repeat violators of the county's outdoor water use ban up to $1,000, double the water rate for high water users who do not cut their consumption by 10 percent and offer the rebate for switching toilets.

The measure was tabled by a 3-2 vote after being added to the agenda at Tuesday's commission meeting. It will be heard again Dec. 11.

"I have a problem with a resolution that in the end, costs so much it's unaffordable," Bannister said. "To do it and do it so quickly because others have done it, I don't think that's a good reason to do it."

Other counties have adopted water conservation resolutions in response to Georgia's historic Level 4 drought. Earlier this month, Lake Lanier reached a new record low, the lowest it has been since 1981. Tuesday, it was as low as 1,051.96 feet, more than 19 feet below its full pool level.

Bannister said he had purchased a low-flow toilet for his home, but didn't think delaying the resolution until next month would have much of an impact on the county's water supply.

Commissioner Lorraine Green, an environmental engineer who worked to create the proposal, disagreed. She said members of the Board of Commissioners have been discussing the plan since late October, and she was surprised that questions of cost were coming up now.

"We need to do what we can," she said. "We have to start somewhere, and I don't think we start by delaying our decision another three weeks."

Other commissioners questioned why the resolution had not been advertised on the agenda prior to being added and whether someone could be punished for having a family reunion at Christmas, therefore using more water than the household had the year before.

"My concern is the law of unintended consequence," Commissioner Bert Nasuti said.

Commissioners Bannister, Nasuti and Mike Beaudreau said they supported the intent of the resolution, but weren't convinced that it was ready to go on the books. The county has more than 109,000 homes that were built before 1993 and would be eligible for the toilet rebates, Bannister said. Green said rebates would be limited to $300,000, but Bannister said he wasn't comfortable with the idea of limiting access.

"If we limit it, nobody else gets it, but they have to pay the bill," he said. "It bears reading and understanding from the public. It could cost north of $20 million. We can't do that."

Senior Writer Camie Young contributed to this story.