Gwinnett County is the poster child for how communities should handle their water, Gov. Nathan Deal said during Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful’s Governor’s Environmental Address at the Infinite Energy Center Wednesday.
Water played a major part of Deal’s speech, which was hosted by Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful. Deal took the speech as an opportunity to address what he saw as fair access to water for communities such as Gwinnett. He also took it as opportunity to praise Gwinnett leaders for their work to clean used water and return it to Lake Lanier and local watersheds.
“You continue to be my poster child, and I don’t just say these things whenever I come to Gwinnett County,” Deal said. “I say these things all over the state of Georgia because you are my poster child for what should be done for treating and returning clean water back to the system.”
Deal’s speech to Gwinnett leaders came after the U.S. Supreme Court decided to consider a case between Georgia and its neighboring states over access to water from the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers. A special master was previously appointed by the court to review water access between Georgia, Alabama and Florida.
The special master sided with Georgia in a report released earlier this year and now the Supreme Court will look at that report.
But the governor said communities such as Gwinnett should receive credit for the water they clean and return to water sources, such as Lake Lanier and local rivers. A big part of Gwinnett’s efforts to clean its water is the F. Wayne Hill Water Plant in Buford. It uses an extensive process to clean water before sending it back to Lake Lanier.
“Every chance where you have an opportunity to speak to a member of Congress, our two senators and our representatives, remind them if you want to do something that really means something and is not just window dressing, and not just having a press release that is of maybe marginal importance, convince the Army Corps of Engineers to give communities like Gwinnett credit when they have spent millions (to clean water),” Deal said.
Credits are important, because the the amount of credits that a community has can impact how much water the Army Corps of Engineers will let that community pull from a water source.
With Gwinnett’s population projected to grow to the point that it will become Georgia’s most populous county in the coming years, how much water it is allowed to pull from Lake Lanier will be critical. The lake is Gwinnett’s sole water source.
If communities are given credit for cleaning and returning water to its sources after its been used, the governor said it would encourage more communities in Georgia and across the country to follow Gwinnett’s lead.
Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash agrees. Gwinnett has continually made the argument that the Corps of Engineers, which manages Lake Lanier, should give it credit for its returns. The chairwoman said she saw “Gwinnett all over” the special master’s report to the Supreme Court.
“We just can’t imagine a place where it wouldn’t be a good thing to provide the incentive to treat water to the level that we treat it and return it back as high up in water stream as possible,” Nash said. “I’m waiting for somebody to give me an example where that wouldn’t be a good thing, but that hasn’t happened yet, so I think Gov. Deal is right on the money with his remarks about that.”
She also said Gwinnett has high expectations for itself when it comes to water treatment because county leaders see it as the right thing to do.
“We think we have simply moved to the level everybody is going to have to eventually be at,” Nash said.
Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful Executive Director Schelly Marlatt said it can be hard for someone to understand what it takes to clean water the way Gwinnett’s Department of Water Resources does unless they see it in person.
“The Wayne Hill Plant — if you haven’t been there, you need to go there because that is one of the coolest places,” she said. “You don’t think about the stages that it has to go through in order for it (to be considered clean). What I learned there is that it goes back into Lake Lanier cleaner than the way we found it and that’s incredible.”
Need to control water consumption also highlighted
Deal said controlling water consumption as the population grows is a part of the state’s argument in the ongoing water wars with Alabama and Florida. He pointed to water leak detection and abatement efforts by the 15-county Metropolitan Water District as an example of local efforts to conserve water as the region’s population has grown.
Deal said the water district has reduced its water demand forecast by 25 percent of water conservation efforts.
“New people requires more water and we have successfully mitigated water consumption increases that would normally go along with population growth,” Deal said. “Despite growing by more than 1 million people in the last decade, the metropolitan Atlanta area is withdrawing 10 percent less water than it did a decade ago.
“Our per capita consumption has decreased by roughly 30 percent over that same time period.”
Nash said she could not immediately recall the figures for how much Gwinnett’s water consumption has dropped after the luncheon, but she said “ours are drastic.”
“I look at them and keep saying ‘how did that happen?’ because it is a drastic drop,” she said. “Part of it is that during the severe drought, some people just gave up on irrigating, or having landscaping that requires irrigation. They changed the way their landscaping is done. That’s part of it, so there’s a lot less outdoor watering, but there’s more than can just be accounted for by that.”
And as for that water treatment poster child label, Nash and Marlatt said the county and Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful have no problem embracing it.
“I am proud and honored to be the governor’s poster child,” Marlatt said. “Anyway we can help raise awareness on water and water issues, we are here to serve.”
Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful also recognized its scholarship recipients, Candi Abbey and Tyler Heath, as well as the winners of its 2017 Green Awards at the luncheon. The winners included:
• Green Business Award: Rubicon
• Green Community Partner Award: Yellow River Water Trail
• Green Government Award: Peachtree Corners
• Green Educator Award: Lanier High School
• Connie Wiggins Environmental Legacy Award: Rudy Bowen