Newton County's water utilities are slowly but surely coming into compliance with Gov. Sonny Perdue's 10 percent water reduction mandate. In December the water utilities increased reduction to 7.5 percent compared to water consumption last winter.
That is up from a 6.3 percent reduction in November. While some water utilities went further in decreasing their consumption on a per customer basis since November, (Newton County Water Sewerage Authority, Walton County Water and Sewerage Authority, Newborn) other utilities saw their consumption increase (Oxford, Porterdale and Mansfield).
The city of Oxford saw its water consumption jump sharply from November to December, increasing by 12.7 percent.
Meeting for the third time Wednesday morning, the Newton County Drought Response Team met to assess their progress in meeting the governor's mandate. Members of the team are comprised of utilities who withdraw water from either Lake Varner or City Pond.
"We did do a little bit better in December than we did in November," said Karl Kelley, director of Newton County's Water Resources Department Thursday. "We still didn't meet the 10 percent reduction."
Kelley said the fact that Walton County has to withdraw water from Lake Varner is a factor affecting the county's ability to meet the mandate. Walton County, which owns 25 percent of Lake Varner, began withdrawing more water from the reservoir in 2007 (approximately 20 percent more) as a result of the draining of a reservoir in Oconee County that had previously supplied much of Walton County's water needs.
"Our meeting yesterday was very short and it was pretty much just an informational type meeting," Kelley said, adding that a couple of the utilities said they planned to change their drought enforcement measures.
Kelley said the water utilities also shared their responses to an Environmental Protection Division questionnaire sent out to the utilities who did not meet the 10 percent mandate.
In the questionnaire submitted to the EPD by the Water Resources Department, Kelley asked for special consideration for the county's water utilities because the reduction requirement does not take into account growth in customer base.
"It is patently unfair to disregard such growth," reads the county's questionnaire response. "We urge EPD to evaluate compliance on the basis of total customers or on a per capita basis if that data is available."
According to the December Water Conservation Report Card for the county's water utilities, the number of individual water customers in Newton County increased by 1,382 since March 2007.
Mike Hopkins, executive director of the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority, said that the utilities that have not reduced water consumption by 10 percent (including NCWSA) are wondering if they will receive a Notice of Violation letter from EPD.
"From what I gather from EPD, they're getting ready to notify the people that they feel are not working towards the goal of 10 percent," Hopkins said.
Hopkins said he thinks there will be leniency for utilities that can show they have been operating in good faith to reduce consumption. Hopkins said he did not know if utilities receiving a NOV letter would be facing fines from EPD.
If NOV letters are issued, Hopkins said he hopes EPD holds all utilities accountable to the same degree.
"If you're going to start penalizing folks, I think EPD ought to have the same formula," Hopkins said.
Hopkins said NOV letters could be sent out at the end of January.
The Newton County Drought Response Team will meet again at the beginning of February.