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Despite higher Lanier levels, officials stress water conservation

LAWRENCEVILLE — Gwinnettians have been pretty good about conserving water since a major drought caused concern over Lake Lanier several years ago.

But officials are stressing the issue just as much now, with just a year and a half until a court ruling could deem the lake no longer an option in providing drinking water to the metro Atlanta area.

Last month, commissioners strengthened a watering ban that had been in place since the drought. The rule against using outdoor water between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. now applies every day, not just in times of drought.

During the hottest part of the day, “you lose more in evaporation than gets to the plant’s roots,” said Frank Stephens of Gwinnett’s Department of Water Resources. “It’s common sense.”

Exemptions apply for golf courses and some other uses, but change is just another in a series of conservation measures officials across the state have been adding for the past decade.

Pat Stevens, an Atlanta Regional Commission expert who has been working with the Metro North Georgia Water Planning Authority, said the message has been about proving Georgians can be good stewards of its natural resources, as a lawsuit with Alabama and Florida threatens the water supply.

“You can’t help but wonder if he gave everybody involved a wake up call,” Stevens said of a ruling from federal Judge Magnuson, who ruled that water supply is not an authorized use for Lanier, even though it is the metro region’s main source.

With the governors of Georgia, Alabama and Florida all leaving office at the end of the month, negotiations could start anew with their replacements. But discussions have been going on for years, and congressional action has been slow to materialize.

So the Georgia leaders are doing what they can to make the case for stewardship.

Earlier this month, the planning district added another list of measures, after the General Assembly approved requirements this year.

Measures adopted for the Lake Lanier area systems include:

• Water systems must expedite plans to reduce leaks in their systems.

• Rebates will be available for apartment and other multi-family properties to be converted with high-efficiency toilets. (The rebate program has been in place for single-family homes for some time.)

• Providers must develop a program to notify customers of possible leaks in their homes or businesses.

• Meters must be added to private fire lines in commercial buildings.

• Jurisdictions must provide enough funding and staffing to implement water conservation measures. Gwinnett officials said a staffer has been hired to head up its program.