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Watering program helps Georgians save water, lawns
By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

Georgians are taking water conservation seriously, saving up to 180 million gallons per day in counties under the level 4 drought category. And many of these people still give their plants the water they need to grow.

Between June 2007 and June 2008, water use was down 20 percent in 55 north Georgia counties. Helping in that reduction were Georgians who pledged to reduce their outdoor water use by 10 percent through the Outdoor Water Use Registration Program (outdoorwateruse.com). The program was developed by the University of Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture, along with the Environmental Protection Division and the Urban Ag Council.

As of February 2009, 22,200 people had completed the program either through local UGA Cooperative Extension offices or online.

They’re reducing, not eliminating, water use.

“The long and short of it is, the governor wanted reassurance that citizens would use water in the most efficient way possible and recognize that landscapes are essential,” said Todd Hurt, a UGA Extension water specialist. “We need to water a little bit so all our soil doesn’t wind up in lakes and rivers.”

Soil erosion is the No. 1 pollutant in rivers, he said. Plants hold the soil in place and help it absorb water after a rain.

In Oct. 2007, a complete outdoor watering ban was issued in many parts of Georgia. The state soon learned that when outdoor spigots turn off plants die, soil washes away and Georgia’s $8 billion plant industry shrivels.

The plant, or green, industry lost an estimated $230 million a month and 35,000 jobs during that drought. Cities and counties that sell water through local utilities lost revenue.

The UGA Center for Urban Agriculture created the program to help soothe some of the problems watering bans create. The program went live in Feb. 2008 when Gov. Sonny Perdue signed an order allowing limited outdoor watering.

The program, Hurt said, allows landscapes that have been in the ground less than 30 days to be watered longer than 25 minutes at a time. Only property owners in areas under level 4, level 4A or level 4B droughts need to complete the program and become certified. Level 4C allows for watering three days a week, therefore the certificate would not be a benefit.

People certified through the program can use their irrigation systems if they pledge to use less water than they did before the drought.

“You would take your certificate and post it in your landscape,” Hurt said, “and that would allow you to water on the odd-even system from midnight to 10 a.m. for 10 weeks.”

Some local water providers ask for the certificate before issuing a local watering permit, he said.

The program is composed of a 40-slide presentation and certification quiz. It covers topics such as Georgia’s water basins, where water originates, water use, landscape value, how to water efficiently, where to put plants, mulch and how to find alternative water sources.

It’s hard to teach water conservation in a state that receives as much as 50 inches of rain a year, Hurt said. Some states get less than 5 inches.

“We have to find ways to capture (water) and reuse it in a wise fashion,” he said. “We can’t give up our landscapes. We can’t plant cactus. It’s going to rot when the rain comes back.”

Hurt is revamping the program to focus more on sustainable landscapes and less on drought.

Georgia’s plant industry hasn’t recovered, yet, he said. The number of new landscapes being installed is still greatly reduced. The program has helped, though.

For more information or to complete the certification, call 1-800-ASK-UGA1 to schedule an appointment at your local UGA Extension office. Or, complete it online for $4.95 at outdoorwateruse.com.

(Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.)

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