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8.5 months of water left
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A little over a month since Gov. Sonny Perdue's mandate that 61 north Georgia counties must cut their water consumption levels by 10 percent, Newton County has decreased its levels by 6.3 percent.

However, when recent population growth is factored in, on a per water customer basis, the county has actually seen consumption levels decrease by over 10 percent from this time one year ago.

This does mean though that water customers should cease their water conservation efforts said Newton County Water Resources Director Karl Kelley. The county is still in a severe drought and needs to take precautions in guarding its water supply.

According to Kelley, as of Monday Lake Varner was at 45 percent capacity levels. At present consumption rates the county's drinking water supply should last an additional 8.5 months.

"I think we have made some tremendous strides in conserving our water supply," said Newton County Chairman Aaron Varner. "I think our supply at Lake Varner is still in good shape, but we would certainly welcome any rain that may come our way."

Formed in the wake of Perdue's mandate at the end of October, the Newton County Drought Response Team met for the second time Monday to discuss their progress in reducing consumption levels. The response team is comprised of water utilities that draw water from the reservoirs at City Pond and/or Lake Varner.

They are the cities of Covington, Porterdale, Oxford, Mansfield and Newborn; Alcovy Shores; the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority; the Walton County Water and Sewerage Authority; and the Jasper County Water and Sewerage Authority.

Kelley informed the group that taken as a whole they had reduced their wholesale water purchases in November by 6.3 percent from last year's winter average according to a press release.

Kelley said the group decided not to include water figures from Walton County due to the fact that with the recent draining of a reservoir in Oconee County - from which Walton County obtained 10 percent of its water - Walton County had to increase the amount of water it withdraws from Lake Varner by 37 percent over last year's winter average.

According to Kelley, Walton County owns 25 percent of Lake Varner and is entitled to purchase 25 percent of the maximum amount coming out of Lake Varner.

"We decided as a group that that was such an anomaly, we weren't gong to consider that in our report card," Kelley said.

Based on the average water production of 9.7 million gallons per day from December 2006 through March 2007, Newton County's water utilities were tasked with reducing consumption by 970,000 gallons per day until further notice.

According to a report card of the county's November water conservation efforts, with the extra water purchased by Walton County, Newton County water utilities only reduced their consumption by .2 percent.

 Without taking into account water withdrawn by Walton County, water utilities reduced their consumption by 6.3 percent.

Taking into account the 1,372 new water customers the county added over the past year, the water utilities on a per customer basis reduced consumption by 10.4 percent according to the report card.

The Drought Response Team is submitting a letter to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division explaining the county's situation. Kelley said the EPD has announced it will look at each county on a case-by-case basis.

Kelley said he feels optimistic that the EPD will look favorably on the efforts made by the county's water utilities in light of Walton County's unusual situation and the recent growth experienced by the county.

"I'm actually very pleased," Kelley said. "I don't think any of them expected us to achieve a 6 percent reduction in water usage primarily because they had already instituted some conservation steps. I think we'll see next month and in subsequent months we will be meeting the governor's 10 percent reduction."

The city of Mansfield reduced its consumption levels the most (26.1 percent) followed by the city of Covington which reduced its consumption levels by 25 percent. Covington's large reduction level is largely the result of conservation efforts made by large industries - top water users - over the past month.

"We've been pretty pleased with our participation," said Billy Bouchillon, public works director for the city of Covington. "I really think that the citizens have taken this seriously. But I don't want them to think we've got it made. Industry has really jumped on board, and they're pulling their weight with this thing."

Bouchillon added that the locking out of automatic irrigation sprinklers also helped in conservation efforts.

Residents wishing to do more towards their water conservation efforts are advised to look for leaks in their plumbing. One big source of leaks according to Bouchillon is in toilet water tanks.

To check for a leak Bouchillon advised sticking a dye tablet or placing a few drops of food coloring in the toilet water tank. Without flushing, check and see if the dye appears in the toilet.

If it does, then you know you have a leak and can take actions to properly repair it.

Statistics provided by the Newton County Water Resources Department