Hidden Reservoir: Why Water Efficiency Is The Best Solution For The Southeast

faucet dripping photo
Imagine, if you will, that a brand new source of water is suddenly discovered in the Southeast. A big aquifer, perhaps, or a giant lake. A new water source that could quench the thirst of millions.

You're probably thinking this sounds like a "too good to be true" dream in a region suffering from record drought.

Today, American Rivers is releasing a new report, Hidden Reservoir: why water efficiency is the best solution for the Southeast. Water efficiency is proven, it is cost-effective, and the results are immediate.

But it's not a dream, it's reality -- Atlanta and the entire Southeast are sitting on an enormous and forgotten water supply, and it's hiding in plain sight -- there is a "hidden reservoir" in our laundry rooms, our kitchens and bathrooms.

Now, let's be clear: water efficiency does not mean telling people to shower just once a week, or to plant a cactus in their front yards.

Water efficiency does not mean turning the water off. It's not about water use restrictions — because that just brings temporary results. We need to invest in efficiency because that is where the long-term results can be found. Efficiency means using water more wisely -- by fixing leaks, replacing old appliances and fixtures, and taking other common sense steps in our homes and our communities. For example, if one homeowner fixes a leaky toilet in her house, she can save between 30 to 500 gallons of water a day. And if Metro Atlanta scaled it up and fixed the leaks in all of its water pipes, the region could save between 30 and 60 million gallons a day.

So we are calling on civic leaders and utilities in Atlanta and across Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina today to adopt nine essential water efficiency policies. They are:

1. Stop leaks: Over six billion gallons of water are lost each day in the U.S. due to aging water distribution systems. Leaks should be fixed to stop this massive waste of water.

2. Price water right: Water should be priced to cover costs, encourage efficiency and ensure access to clean drinking water. We can do this, and still provide water for low-income residents at a reduced rate.

3. Meter all water users: Water meters should be installed in all new homes, multi-family apartment buildings, and businesses so water users can measure and monitor their consumption.

4. Retrofit all buildings: If all U.S. households installed water-efficient fixtures and appliances, the country would save more than 8.2 billion gallons per day — enough water supply for all 8 Southeastern states or 20% of total US consumption.

5. Landscape to minimize water waste: On average, U.S. homes consume 30 percent of their water outdoors -- watering lawns, thirsty plants and trees. By installing more innovative and efficient irrigation systems and drought tolerant plants, communities would see 25% savings on outdoor water use.

6. Increase public understanding: Communities should equip individuals with information about their own water use patterns, and educate the public about smart, simple water efficiency solutions.

7. Build smart for the future: Homes, businesses and neighborhoods should be designed to capture and reuse storm water, and to use gray water and rainwater for non-potable purposes. Building codes and ordinances should be updated to support or require the use of the most water efficiency technologies.

8. Return water to the river: To maintain healthy flows, a portion of water efficiency "savings" should be returned to the river to serve as a "savings account" for a not so rainy day.

9. Involve water users in decisions: New opportunities for significant water savings can be found when all the stakeholders are at the table. Involving water users can increase efficiency.

These policies should form the backbone of Georgia's and the Southeast's water supply strategy. Why? - The numbers speak for themselves. In Metro Atlanta,