In the midst of the current drought, which shows no signs of ending, Gov. Sonny Perdue has ordered 61 North Georgia counties - including Newton County - to cut water consumption by 10 percent.
The new restrictions went into effect on Thursday.
"We don't want the pubic to panic," said Mike Hopkins, executive director of the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority. "We want the public to recognize that we are in a situation. It's going to have to take some self-policing from all of us."
According to a press release from his office, the governor has directed the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to change current water permits for the 61 counties to account for a 10 percent reduction compared to the permit holder's water usage during last year's winter season.
Based on the average water production of 9.7 million gallons per day for the period of December 2006 through March 2007, Newton County is required to reduce average water production by 970,000 gallons per day
On Wednesday the county organized a meeting of all water permit holders in the county to discuss how to bring the county's consumption levels down. According to a press release from County Executive Officer John Middleton, water supply utility representatives from Covington, Porterdale, Oxford, Mansfield, Newborn, the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority, the Walton County Water and Sewerage Authority and the Jasper County Water and Sewerage Authority were at the meeting.
The Jasper and Walton authorities attended the meeting because they also draw some of their water from the county's reservoirs: City Pond and Lake Varner.
Out of discussions from the meeting a consensus was reached by all utilities present that they would agree to adopt the following steps as a first measure of compliance with the governor's order.
A comprehensive list of water conservation tips will be provided to all customers, primarily through inserts in the water bills and media advertisements.
Each jurisdiction's Web-site will offer additional tips and information related to the drought and water conservation.
Water consumption will be highlighted on water bills to increase consumer's awareness of their water usage.
A weekly "Water Usage Report Card" will be provided to media outlets to maintain public awareness of conservation efforts.
The affected chambers of commerce will be asked to assist by educating their membership on water conservation opportunities.
Roadside signs will be used to increase citizen awareness of conservation efforts.
The utilities will contact their highest usage customers to coordinate conservation efforts.
Utilities will lockout irrigation meters (automatic sprinkler systems for lawns).
The utilities will meet again together the first week of December to assess the success of their conservation efforts.
The county is now required to report daily water production numbers each week to EPD. These numbers will also be shared with local utilities to keep them informed on the success of their conservation efforts. EPD will enforce permit restrictions and impose fines for noncompliance.
Hopkins described the meeting as very productive with all attendants in agreement on the need for more public involvement in conservation efforts.
"It is critical," Hopkins said. "People need to know that this is something that is not going to change in the next 90 days. It's going to take some life style changes at home, at work, at play and we need to take it seriously."
While the utilities are still ascertaining who their highest users are, because the majority of users in unincorporated Newton County are residential users and not large industrial and commercial users, it will take concerted efforts on the part of residents to reduce the county's consumption.
Of the approximate 22,000 customers of the county Water and Sewerage Authority, Hopkins estimated that only 200 of those accounts are commercial.
"There's not a whole lot of water usage there," Hopkins said.
The ramifications of the new water restrictions on businesses (and their profit margins) are not yet known, but Hopkins stressed that utilities will partner with their major industries and commercial business to come up with solutions together rather than simply issuing orders.
Covington City Manager Steve Horton said the city was currently compiling a list of its 50 top water users and would be in contact with them soon to discuss ways they can lower their water consumption.
"We will be meeting face-to-face with industrial users to talk to them about the kind of things that they can do," Horton said. "General Mills called us and even though they've made some significant strides, they spoke up and said we want to be part of the solution. It's good when you've got big companies who do that."
Horton said Covington has already put in place new restrictions of its own such as no more watering the lawns of publicly maintained land and no more washing of city vehicles unless absolutely necessary, including police cars and fire trucks.
"There are areas in all of our operations that we've always tried to maintain a certain degree of cleanliness," Horton said. "In those cases unless it's just absolutely essential of some piece of equipment, we're suspending those until further notice."
Horton said he has heard from Covington Fire Chief Don Floyd that the fire department will no longer be doing fire hydrant flow testing and backwashing apparatus fire pumps until further notice
The affect of the restrictions on Newton County and municipal revenue streams, which earn money from the sale of water to customers, is, also, not yet known.
According to Newton County Water Resources Director Karl Kelley, pool levels at Lake Varner are at 693.2 feet above sea level which means that the reservoir is 60 percent full (full capacity is 701 feet).
City Pond is actually near to full capacity said Kelley with pool levels at 24 feet (full capacity is 25 feet).
"The reason City Pond is so full is we are able to pump from the Alcovy River almost continuously so we've been able to recharge City Pond," Kelley said.
According to Kelley at current consumption levels the county has a seven to eight month water supply left in the reservoirs. Once the new water restrictions are in place, that supply will be stretched out further.
"I'm a firm believer that we need to conserve this water because everything that we sustain in this winter is going to help us in the summer," Hopkins.
Hopkins encouraged members of the public to call the Water and Sewerage Authority with their questions on the new restrictions.
"We want them to call us. We want to talk to them," Hopkins said. "I think we can work through these problems. The worst thing we can do is have a panic."
The Newton County Water and Sewer Authority can be reached at (770) 385 2075.
For tips on how to curtail your water consumption visit www.dca.state.ga.us/water_conservation.