Category Archives: ISSUES

Issues about water

Drought claims drinking water, crops in Ga

Atlanta Business Chronicle – by Carla Caldwell , Morning Call Editor

Date: Friday, June 17, 2011, 5:21am EDT

Severe drought conditions in central and South Georgia are causing wells to run dry and in some cases digging deeper isn’t helping. Emergency officials are trucking water in to some rural cities including Dawson and Doerun, Georgia Public Broadcasting is reporting.

In some cases farmers are using the water they have to save crops. Trent Mason, a pecan farmer in Fort Valley, said he is using his well to irrigate trees 12 hours a day, adding conditions are worse than during the last drought in 2007. He said he hasn’t had rain since April 1.

Farmers are reporting they expect huge losses due to the drought. Gov. Nathan Deal is seeking federal disaster relief for 22 counties. Agriculture is Georgia’s biggest industry.

Report: South to lose 23M acres of forests

Atlanta Business Chronicle – by Carla Caldwell , Morning Call Editor

Date: Wednesday, May 18, 2011, 4:51am EDT

The South is expected to lose 23 million acres of forests over the next 50 years due to urbanization, weather patterns, land ownership changes, invasive species, and the use of bio-energy, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Forest Service, Reuters is reporting.

In Georgia and the Carolinas the decline could be as much as 22 percent. In Florida, as much as 30 percent of forests could be lost, according to the forest service.

“The summary report clearly demonstrates the urgent need for developing a collaborative strategy to conserve and restore southern forests,” Forest Service Southern Regional Forester Liz Agpaoa said in a statement.

The loss of forest land will result in more runoff water and decreased water quality along with an increase in the frequency and severity of wildfires, analysis and computer models found, the report says.

The study is the first in-depth forecast on forests in the South prepared by the agency and was compiled with the input of more than 30 scientists, foresters and other experts with the Forest Service, state forestry agencies and universities, according to a statement.

A Carbon Footprint Begets a Water Footprint


Becoming water wise.

Photo courtesy of Britt Udesen (aka Idaho Squatcher).  See her videos on YouTube.

If you have a carbon footprint, you also have a water footprint.  While the idea of calculating your carbon footprint has caught on and carbon calculators are all the rage (for good reason), few are paying attention to their water footprints.  We all know that as Americans, we are the Sasquatch of the planet, rapaciously consuming vast quantities of raw materials, animal products, energy, water, you name it.  But, did you know that every time you turn on the light switch, not only are you consuming energy and adding to your carbon footprint, you are also adding to your water footprint?  The volume of water required to produce power depends upon the energy source, and varies from zero for wind energy to a whopping 70 m3/GJ for biomass energy.  Thus, powering one home for a year on electricity produced from oil implies a water footprint of some 9,500 gallons of water (assuming one home requires 36 GJ power per year).  Everywhere we see a carbon footprint – in the fertilizer, gasoline, electricity and other inputs required to raise, process, transport and refrigerate our food; in the mining and processing of raw materials for electronics; or in the production of cotton for and manufacturing of clothing; we see a concurrent water footprint, the largest portion of which is often directly connected to energy use.

Primary energy carriers Global average water footprint (m3/GJ)
Non-renewable Natural gas 0.11
Coal 0.16
Crude oil 1.06
Uranium 0.09
Renewable Wind energy 0.00
Solar thermal energy 0.27
Hydropower 22
Biomass energy 70 (range: 10-250)

Source: Water Footprint Network

So, when you pause to decide whether or not to turn that light off, you might think about how you’ll be donating some water to the Chinook salmon fry in the nearest river.  Turn it off.  (During Earth Hour this past weekend (March 26, 2011 at 8:30 pm), people across the planet did just that as a stand against climate change.  See what you can do to Go Beyond the Hour.)

Ga. reservoirs bill headed to Governor’s desk

Atlanta Business Chronicle – by Dave Williams , Staff Writer

Date: Thursday, March 31, 2011, 12:17pm EDT

Dave Williams
Staff Writer

The Georgia General Assembly’s most significant water-policy legislation of 2011 is on its way to Gov. Nathan Deal.

The Georgia Senate voted unanimously Thursday to agree to House amendments to a reservoirs bill senators already had approved early this month. The Senate agreement gave the measure final passage, avoiding a risky return trip the House, which had approved the bill by a razor-thin margin on Wednesday.

The reservoirs legislation is a follow-up to last year’s passage of a water conservation bill, as Georgia’s political leaders seek to come to grips with a need for additional water resources that has become more critical since a 2009 federal court ruling threatening Lake Lanier’s future as a regional water supply.

The reservoirs bill would authorize local governments and water utilities to form public-private partnerships to finance and build reservoirs and other water-related improvements.

Public-private water projects could be financed completely on the local level, using local government funds and private investment, or receive state assistance through loans from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority.

On Thursday, Sen. Ross Tolleson, R-Perry, chairman of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, told a colleague during a brief discussion that GEFA loans would not constitute an unconstitutional gratuity to private entities.

The most significant change the House made to the bill was to remove a requirement that disputes over contracts involving water projects be settled only through binding arbitration.

There Will Be Water

T. Boone Pickens thinks water is the new oil—and he’s betting $100 million that he’s right

Pickens hopes to run a water pipeline over 250 miles and 650 tracts of private property from the Texas Panhandle to thirsty Dallas Nancy Newberry

by Susan Berfield


Roberts County is a neat square in a remote corner of the Texas Panhandle, a land of rolling hills, tall grass, oak trees, mesquite, and cattle. It has a desolate beauty, a striking sparseness. The county encompasses 924 square miles and is home to fewer than 900 people. One of them is T. Boone Pickens, the oilman and corporate raider, who first bought some property here in 1971 to hunt quail. He’s now the largest landowner in the county: His Mesa Vista ranch sprawls across some 68,000 acres. Pickens has also bought up the rights to a considerable amount of water that lies below this part of the High Plains in a vast aquifer that came into existence millions of years ago.

If water is the new oil, T. Boone Pickens is a modern-day John D. Rockefeller. Pickens owns more water than any other individual in the U.S. and is looking to control even more. He hopes to sell the water he already has, some 65 billion gallons a year, to Dallas, transporting it over 250 miles, 11 counties, and about 650 tracts of private property. The electricity generated by an enormous wind farm he is setting up in the Panhandle would also flow along that corridor. As far as Pickens is concerned, he could be selling wind, water, natural gas, or uranium; it’s all a matter of supply and demand. “There are people who will buy the water when they need it. And the people who have the water want to sell it. That’s the blood, guts, and feathers of the thing,” he says.

In the coming decades, as growing numbers of people live in urban areas and climate change makes some regions much more prone to drought, water—or what many are calling “blue gold”—will become an increasingly scarce resource. By 2030 nearly half of the world’s population will inhabit areas with severe water stress, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development. Pickens understands that. And while Texas is unusually lax in its laws about pumping groundwater, the rush to control water resources is gathering speed around the planet. In Australia, now in the sixth year of a drought, brokers in urban areas are buying up water rights from farmers. Rural residents around the U.S. are trying to sell their land (and water) to multi- national water bottlers like Nestlé (BW—Apr. 14). Companies that use large quantities of the precious resource to run their businesses are seeking to lock up water supplies. One is Royal Dutch Shell, which is buying groundwater rights in Colorado as it prepares to drill for oil in the shale deposits there.

Into this environment comes Pickens, who made a good living for a long time extracting oil and gas and now, at 80, believes the era of fossil fuel is over. So far he has spent $100 million and eight years on his project and still has not found any city in Texas willing to buy his water. But like many others, Pickens believes there’s a fortune to be made in slaking the thirst of a rapidly growing population. If he pumps as much as he can, he could sell about $165 million worth of water to Dallas each year. “The idea that water can be sold for private gain is still considered unconscionable by many,” says James M. Olson, one of America’s preeminent attorneys specializing in water- and land-use law. “But the scarcity of water and the extraordinary profits that can be made may overwhelm ordinary public sensibilities.”


Pickens, an Oklahoma native, geologist, and someone who calls himself the luckiest guy in the world, is the quintessential entrepreneur. He started as a wildcatter in 1956; three decades later his Mesa Petroleum was the largest independent exploration company in the U.S. But that’s not how Pickens made a name for himself—it was his hostile bids, one after the other through the 1980s, for oil companies far more powerful, far wealthier than his own. Pickens thought they could do more for their shareholders. He never took over any of them. He did, however, push them into deals they might not have considered otherwise, which helped reshape the oil industry.

He did, sometimes, make hundreds of millions when he sold his stakes. And shareholders did, often, benefit. He was briefly the most famous businessman in America, a corporate raider who always wished people would call him a shareholder activist.

By the mid-1990s, though, Pickens had fallen. After a brutal and expensive fight with Unocal, he gave up his raiding. He lost control of Mesa Petroleum after a series of financial and managerial miscalculations. He went through an expensive divorce from his second wife and retreated to his ranch. It was in the midst of this that he acquired a newfound regard for water as a commodity that should be bought, sold, and traded for the benefit of those who own it and those who can afford it.

In 1996 a local water utility made its first big purchase of groundwater rights in the Panhandle. The utility, known as the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority (CRMWA), bought nearly 43,000 acres of water, some of it just south of Pickens’ ranch, for $14.5 million. (Property owners in Texas, and elsewhere, can sell their water separately from the land above it.) That Roberts County would become the stomping ground for the Panhandle water wars was perhaps inevitable. Underneath it lies one of the world’s largest repositories of water, moving slowly among layers of gravel, sand, and silt. The Ogallala Aquifer stretches from Texas to South Dakota and contains a quadrillion gallons of water—enough to cover the U.S. mainland to a depth of almost two feet. Yet the extensive irrigation necessary to grow corn, cotton, and wheat in west Texas has left the Ogallala nearly depleted in some places. It is not an aquifer that is easily or quickly replenished. But the land in Roberts County is unsuited for agriculture, and so the Ogallala there is largely untapped.

Since the early 1900s, groundwater use in Texas has been governed by what’s quaintly called the rule of capture, otherwise described as the biggest pump wins. It lets landowners pump as much water as they can, even if doing so drains neighboring properties. This put Pickens in an uncomfortable position: If he didn’t sell his water to CRMWA, the utility could potentially suck some of it right out from under his ranch. So he tried. But “they told me to kiss off,” he says. Kent Satterwhite, who was then assistant general manager, says: “Boone was fairly insistent that we buy his water. It made him mad that we didn’t have the money to buy it.” That was the first of several contretemps between Pickens and various local water authorities. Pickens next approached the city of Amarillo, which also had begun to acquire water rights in Roberts County. It wasn’t interested, either, though it did purchase water from several other nearby landowners. “Amarillo was pissed off at me,” says Pickens, who has a long and fraught history with the city. When Amarillo turned him down, Pickens felt surrounded. “I had to find a buyer for my water,” he says, “or I was going to be drained.”


There’s a saying in Texas: “Whiskey’s for drinking. Water’s for fighting.” Pickens decided to fight. In 1999 he created a company called Mesa Water and began to accumulate water rights so he could strike a deal with another city altogether. The hell with Amarillo. Pickens was confident he could sell his water: The population of Texas was expected to jump 40% by 2020, mostly in urban areas one dry season away from drought.

Pickens’ decision to get into the water business was regarded by some in the Panhandle as nothing more, or less, than a shrewd move by a man who knows the value of commodities. The economy of the High Plains region is based on people taking out the natural resources and selling them. If water that can’t be used for farming ends up in the taps of city residents hundreds of miles away, that’s fine. Pickens says he’s buying stranded, surplus water that needs to be rescued. Kim Flowers, who runs an 8,300-acre ranch in Roberts County, speaks for many landowners when she says: “People can do with their water as they wish as long as they’re not wasting it.”

In all, Pickens, CRMWA, and Amarillo have spent about $150 million to buy up nearly 80% of the water rights in Roberts County, undermining and outbidding one another along the way. One unsurprising effect of their competition is that the price of an acre of water has in some places doubled, to $600. That’s something in which Pickens takes pride. Much as he did in the 1980s, when he went after big oil companies he believed weren’t doing right by their shareholders, Pickens now talks about creating value for Roberts County landowners. They make money from selling their water while continuing to live, run cattle, and hunt on their property. “I told them I was going to raise the value of the land, and I accomplished that. The landowners are all tickled to death. I made our water worth something. And anybody with any sense would sell it.”

Not all Roberts County landowners wanted to do business with him, though. Pickens intended to pull water from an aquifer that is pretty much the sole source for the Panhandle, and that isn’t refilled quickly, and sell it to a place like Dallas, whose water use is the highest of any city in Texas. This seemed ludicrous, even reckless, to some. C.E. Williams runs the Panhandle Groundwater Conservation District, which is responsible for managing the competing demands on the region’s share of the Ogallala. He puts it this way: “As a district, we cannot pick and choose where the water goes. But personally I am concerned. I have a son who is an irrigated farmer, and I have grandkids, and I want to make sure that they can conduct commerce when they want to.”

Pickens has a way of dismissing the complexity of a situation, sometimes even the possibility of an opinion contrary to his own. In this case, any opposition to his plan from anyone who is not a Roberts County landowner, who is not essentially a shareholder in this venture, he deems irrelevant. Williams, he points out, doesn’t himself have any property. “Water is a commodity,” he says. “Heck, isn’t it like oil? You have to come back to who owns the water. The groundwater is owned by the landowner. That’s it.” When it comes to potential buyers, Pickens cares about only one thing: how much they’re willing to pay. “Do I care what Dallas does with the water? Hell no.”

Republican State Representative Warren Chisum is a Roberts County rancher who owns 12,000 acres next to Pickens and sold his water to Amarillo in 2001. He would seem to be a natural ally. He’s not. “My water will remain local,” he says. “It’s controversial to ship it out of the Panhandle. When we run out, we’re done. The long-term value is to keep it here. That’s contrary to what Pickens wants to do. It’s his water. But he won’t be here in 50 years.”

In 2002, Pickens began approaching several of Texas’ sprawling cities, all of which share one defining feature: Their populations are growing so quickly that they are constantly in need of new supplies of water. But with water, as with so much else, location is critical. And Pickens’ water is far, far away from anyplace that might buy it. Pickens knew he’d have to build a pipeline, and to do so at anything resembling a reasonable cost, he’d need the power of eminent domain—the right of a government entity to force the sale of private property for the public good. Water utilities have that right. If Dallas agreed to buy Pickens’ water, it could extend such authority to him. But Dallas deemed Pickens’ price too high and declined to do a deal. So Pickens and his executives tried to create a Fresh Water Supply District—a government entity that would have that power. But they couldn’t get it through.

Over the next several years, Pickens continued accumulating water rights and began to lease other land, this time with the idea of creating the world’s biggest wind farm. “One of the great wind areas is right up where we are,” says Robert L. Stillwell, Pickens’ general counsel. “You can set it right on top of where the water is.” And since, one day anyway, Dallas may well buy both, Mesa could use a single right-of-way for the water pipeline and the electric lines.

In Roberts County there would be real economic benefits from the wind farm. “The wind is meant to sweeten the deal,” says Representative Chisum. “The big money for Pickens is in the water.”

It had been a decade since Pickens first realized the potential value of the water deposited eons ago in the sand below the High Plains. Now it was time to employ the one resource he hadn’t yet used: his lobbying clout.


In January, 2007, the Texas Legislature convened in the grand statehouse in Austin. The 80th session turned out to be very productive, and one person who kept busy during that time was J.E. Buster Brown, a former state senator and one of the most powerful lobbyists in town. Among Brown’s clients is Mesa Water. “My job is primarily defensive,” Brown says of his work for Pickens. “I’m watching to make sure there is no legislation passed that creates obstacles to Pickens doing what he wants to do. I’m supposed to make sure nothing bad happens.”

Brown did more than that: He helped win Pickens a key new legal right. It was contained in an amendment to a major piece of water legislation. The amendment, one of more than 100 added after the bill had been reviewed in the House, allowed a water-supply district to transmit alternative energy and transport water in a single corridor, or right-of-way. “We helped move that along,” says Stillwell. “We thought it would be handy and helpful to everyone.”

After the bill passed, Tom “Smitty” Smith, Texas director of Public Citizens, an advocacy group, says several legislators were drinking coffee and reading through it. “Uh-oh,” one said. They’d just realized the amendment would help Pickens build his pipeline. “Many legislators were watching for this play,” Smith says, “and it still snuck by.” State Senator Robert Duncan, a Republican who represents Lubbock, says: “It probably should have raised our suspicions, but we were moving a lot of bills. And it would have been hard to hold up this one even if we’d discovered the amendment.”

Pickens still needed the power of eminent domain if he was going to build his pipeline and wind-power lines across private land. And by happy coincidence, the legislators passed a smaller bill that made that all the easier. The new legislation loosened the requirements for creating a water district. Previously, a district’s five elected supervisors needed to be registered voters living within the boundaries of the district. Now, they only had to own land in the district; they could live and vote wherever. The bill, as it happens, was put forth by two legislators from Houston; Brown says he and Mesa had nothing to do with it. “That wasn’t our bill,” says Brown. “I wish I could take credit for it.”

Pickens moved quickly to take advantage of the new rules. Over the summer of 2007, he sold eight acres on the back side of his ranch to five people in his employ: Stillwell, who resides in Houston, two of his executives in Dallas, and the couple who manage his ranch, Alton and Lu Boone. A few days later, Mesa Water filed a petition to create an eight-acre water-supply district with those five as the directors and sole members. On Nov. 6, Roberts County held an election to decide whether to form the new district. Only two people were qualified to take part: Alton and Lu Boone. The vote was unanimous. With that, Pickens won the right to issue tax-free bonds for his pipeline and electrical lines as well as the extraordinary power to claim land across swaths of the state.

No one at Mesa regards Roberts County Fresh Water Supply District No. 1 as an unusual arrangement. “We’re no different from any other water or electricity supplier,” says Stillwell, meaning they, too, would use the power of eminent domain only as a last resort and for the public good. As for the suggestion that he wouldn’t have qualified to be a board member under the old rules, Stillwell says: “It doesn’t matter that I’m on the board. It would have been another me, just a local me.”


Pickens was ready to reach out to landowners along the route. In April, 2008, Mesa sent out some 1,100 letters to people along the 250-mile proposed right-of-way, from Miami, Tex.

, to a town called Jacksboro, just short of Dallas. The letters included a Texas landowners’ bill of rights, information on the condemnation procedure, a map of the route, and a list of open houses they could attend for more information.

One stifling evening in May, about 50 people showed up at the Twin Lakes Community Activity Center just outside Jacksboro. When the ranchers arrived, more than a dozen of Mesa’s public-relations consultants, hydrologists, and land men were waiting for them. Standing behind tables laid out with pens, cups, hats, and bags with the District No. 1 logo, the officials were available to answer questions about the 250-foot-wide corridor Mesa would use to construct, maintain, and possibly expand the pipeline and electric lines. While this arrangement allowed everyone to get information specific to their property, it also precluded any public questioning of the Mesa standard-bearers. This did not go unnoticed by the ranchers. “We’re not happy,” said one. “Pickens is pushing his power trip on us. I can’t fight his money. But if he asked first, I might have thought better of it.” Another said: “Land goes way back for a lot of people here. If you tell people you want their land, Texans raise their guns.” At the end of the evening, most of the pens and hats and cups still lay on the tables.

Pickens isn’t bothered that by his invoking the right of eminent domain, Mesa has inflamed landowners up and down the route. “It always does,” he says. Mesa expects to acquire the land it needs in the next 18 months and pay about $30 million for it; Pickens wants to begin construction on the $1.2 billion pipeline right afterward. It should take about three years to complete. If all goes according to plan, Mesa will be able to pump enough water to satisfy the needs of some 1.5 million Texans every day.

Pickens hopes to strike a deal with Dallas or the urban areas around it before Mesa starts building the pipeline. “Eventually they will need it,” he says. So far, though, the talks might best be characterized as preliminary. “We continue to meet with Pickens’ staff and engineers to get a better understanding of the proposal and so they can understand what our needs are,” says Mike Rickman, assistant general manager of the North Texas Municipal Water District, which supplies water to 13 cities north and east of Dallas. “Mesa has a lot of water. But how much will it cost to buy it and deliver it?” Rickman says that at some point he would have to consider the consequences for the Ogallala: “Does it make sense to take water from an arid portion of the state? We don’t want to harm our neighbors out there.”

In Roberts County, people hold on to the hope that pumping from the Ogallala can be controlled. In 1998, as Pickens and local water utilities began buying up water rights, the groundwater conservation district placed some restrictions on the rule of capture that it calls the 50-50 rule: Anyone who receives a new permit to pump can draw down the aquifer by only 50% over the next 50 years. Later, an additional limit of 1.2% per year was set. These essentially manage the depletion of the Ogallala under Roberts County; there, it is replenished at a rate of only 0.1% a year. Williams, who put the rules into place, says: “It’s like taking dollar bills out of your bank account and putting nickels back in. Even with a big bank account, there’s an end. That’s pretty much what’s happening in the Ogallala.”

Pickens has promised to abide by the 50-50 rule. “I don’t have any concerns about depleting the aquifer. All I’m doing is selling surplus water,” he says. “I’m not about to drain all the water out of Roberts County. I have my ranch there. But I could sure take it down 50% and not hurt anybody. And it could make a lot of people a lot of money.”

Join a debate about bottled water.

Berfield is an associate editor at BusinessWeek .

EPA Launches Green Infrastructure Drive

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has launched an initiative to promote the use of “green infrastructure” by cities and towns, in an effort to reduce stormwater runoff.

The agency says it will partner with local governments and other bodies in 10 cities that use such environmental tools as green roofs, permeable street materials and increased tree cover to “encourage and support” the cities’ expanded use of such infrastructure.

The 10 cities are: Austin, Texas; Boston, Mass.; Cleveland, Ohio; Denver, Colo.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Kansas City, Mo.; Los Angeles, Calif.; Puyallup, Wash.; Syracuse, N.Y.; and Washington, D.C. and some neighboring communities.

According to the EPA, stormwater is one of the most widespread challenges to water quality in the nation. Large volumes of polluted stormwater degrade rivers, lakes and aquatic habitats and contribute to downstream flooding, the agency says. Green infrastructure decreases pollution to local waterways by treating rain where it falls and keeping polluted stormwater from entering sewer systems.

In addition to protecting the public’s health by decreasing water pollution, green infrastructure provides many community benefits including increased economic activity and neighborhood revitalization, job creation, energy savings and increased recreational and green space, the EPA says.

Energy savings are one of the greatest benefits of green infrastructure. For example, green roofs can reduce a building’s energy costs by 10 to 15 percent, and an additional 10 percent of urban tree canopy can provide 5 to 10 percent energy savings from shading and through blocking wind, the agency says. Green infrastructure also conserves energy by reducing the amount of stormwater entering combined collection and treatment systems, which reduces the amount of wastewater processed at treatment plants.

“Through this agenda, we’ll help cities and towns across the nation clean up their waters and strengthen their communities by supporting and expanding green infrastructure,” said EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe. “Green infrastructure changes improve the health of our waters while creating local jobs, saving communities money and making them healthier and more prosperous places to raise a family and start a business.”

A report out at the start of April showed that the square footage of green roofs in the U.S. grew by 28.5 percent in 2010.

Washington, D.C. – one of the EPA’s partner cities in the strategy announced today – is the U.S. city with the second-most green roofing, according to the survey. Chicago topped the poll.

4/29/11 environmental Leader


UNHRC Resolution A/HRC/15/L.14, September 30, 2010

22 March 2011

The UN Human Rights Council affirms the human right to safe drinking water.1 Now is the time for the world’s governments to contribute to the provision of a regular supply of safe, accessible and affordable drinking water in sufficient quantity for 884 million more people.

On World Water Day 2011, the undersigned organizations wish to strongly advocate for the use of rainwater: it must be considered as an important tool in efforts to minimize the water related problems that already exist.

• Rainwater is a valuable resource that is underutilized. Its capture and use can alleviate challenges related to potable, non-potable, storm water and energy.

• Local rainwater harvesting solutions enhance water security and provide important relief to households and communities. All around the world, rainwater infiltration, collection and storage

offers benefits for the environment, wildlife and humans, and improves water availability for industry and agriculture.

• It is time for rainwater catchment to be included in the development plans of all governmental agencies as part of their integrated water resource management strategies.

• Introduction of the concept of rainwater management – maximizing rain’s benefits as a vital resource while minimizing potential rain hazards – to curricula of technical schools and universities will bring future benefits to urban planning, architectural and agricultural projects.


American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA)

International Rainwater Harvesting Alliance (IRHA)

International Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (IRCSA)

Southern and Eastern Africa Rainwater Network (SearNet)

Ingénieurs du Monde

Safe Water International

Consortium Across the Community to Harvest Water

University of Arizona

Watershed Organisation Trust

Rain Harvesting Pty Ltd


Association pour un environnement CONstruit VIvant et VErt

Rain for All

Integrated Rainwater Management Systems Project for the Ethiopian Highlands

Landscape Ontario Horticultural Trades Association

Dundee UNESCO Centre, University of Dundee

Minnesota Nursery & Landscape Association

NGO Forum for Urban Water and Sanitation

Rainwater Harvesting Implementation Network

Groupements pour la Promotion et l’Exploitation des Ressources de l’Environnement (GROPERE)


Kenya Rainwater Association

RainWater Cambodia

Combined Harvesters Ltd.

Watershed Management Group

Ontario Parks Association

The Cabell Brand Center


RainWater Harvesting Ltd.

Rainwater Services

Conseil de gouvernance de l’eau des bassins versants de la rivière Saint-François

Europe Rainwater Catchment Association

Save Our Life – Ghana Foundation


Network of Rural Women Producers Trinidad and Tobago

Green Cross International

Oasis Aquatic Gardens

Rainwater Club

iMAP Africa


Rainwater Collection Solutions, Inc ~ The Original Rainwater Pillow

IWA Rainwater Harvesting and Management Specialist Group

Additional Signatures



Urban Runoff Bad for Biodiversity in Streams

January 05, 2011

This article originally appeared on

Scientists have demonstrated that stormwater runoff has a negative impact on the biological diversity of urban streams. Researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center ran experiments to measure the effects of polluted stormwater on the insect population of a creek in the Seattle area. The scientists created test channels (similar to rain gutters), and stocked them with rocks from healthy streams that were colonized with insects. Some channels received unfiltered stormwater (with pollutants), while the others received filtered water.

At the end of the 2009 experiment, insect populations in the channels with unfiltered water had dropped by 26 percent, and species diversity had dwindled. These findings suggest that green building strategies that filter and reduce stormwater runoff, such as bioswales and green roofs, are important to the biological health of urban areas.

Skyrocketing water bills mystify, anger residents

By Scott Zamost and Kyra Phillips, CNN Special Investigations Unit

March 2, 2011

Editor’s note: This report follows a four-month look into Atlanta water bill complaints conducted by CNN’s Kyra Phillips and the CNN Special Investigations Unit. Follow CNN Senior Investigative Producer Scott Zamost on Twitter.

Atlanta (CNN) — Imagine paying as much for water as you do for your mortgage.

Residents throughout Atlanta are outraged by hundreds, even thousands of dollars in monthly spikes in their water bills, and have questioned the legitimacy of the charges for years. Now, they’re demanding answers.

“I thought we were sinking in a hole of water,” said Debbi Scarborough. “It scared me to death. I thought we had a major leak when I got the bill.”

Over two months last summer, her family’s monthly water bill, shot up to $1,805 In July and then $1,084 in August, leaving a balance due of more than $3,000. She said in the past her bill has averaged $200 to $250.

“I’m not paying a $3,000 bill. And for those three months, we were pretty much out of town most of the time and there’s no leaks,” she said, showing CNN a copy of her plumber’s report.

The city installed a device on her meter to track daily usage. In the meantime, Scarborough’s bill remains unpaid while she disputes the charges.

She is not alone.

While similar complaints about huge water bill spikes have popped up in Cleveland, Ohio; Charlotte, North Carolina; Tampa, Florida; and Brockton, Massachusetts; it appears that the issue has lasted the longest in Atlanta.

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It’s led to a class-action lawsuit, countless meetings with city officials and continuing complaints from fed-up residents.

Thousands of residents who have seen unusual spikes have appealed their high water bills. Just last year, the city issued credits totaling $466,368 to customers.

Atlanta, with more than 500,000 residents, says it already has the highest water rates of any major city in the United States, due in part to federal consent decrees to overhaul the city’s water supply infrastructure.

Many of the problems arose after the installation of new, automated water meters, which began nearly five years ago, and involved contracts for meter installations, the electronic meters and software equipment.

The automated meter-reading technology eliminates the need for city workers to manually check every meter. Instead, they retrieve the data by driving by each property. The meter electronically transmits data showing the amount of water used.

From the beginning, there were problems.

In 2007, city auditors found they were “unable to verify electronic meter readings” because of “meter read errors, equipment failures or human errors.”

Specifically, the audit said “about 9% of the meters could not be read due to broken or malfunctioning equipment.”

Two years later, another audit concluded that a “high number of accounts” were not getting “actual meter readings” because of “meter read errors, equipment failures or human errors.”

CNN reviewed hundreds of complaints from Atlanta residents as well as city e-mails obtained through a public records request.

On August 26, 2010, Mitch Elliott, a sales executive of Neptune Technologies, which manufactured the meters, wrote to a city official: “It has been an industry experience that typically when a utility does an AMR (automatic meter reading) meter changeout and also switches software billing companies that generally high bill complaints are either due to new meter accuracy and/or a billing multiplier error.”

Elliott would not comment, referring CNN to city officials.

Peter Aman, the city of Atlanta’s chief operating officer, said in an interview that he realized at that time the situation was serious. He’s been on the job since January 2010. Last September, he replaced senior management in the Atlanta Dept. of Watershed Management.

He said the city has sampled about 9,000 of the 132,954 residential meters and made a major discovery: About 1% of the meters’ registers, which show how much water is being used, and the meter base underneath do not properly fit. That mismatch could result in a doubling of the water bill, Aman said.

“These two components don’t match and guess what? They’re labeled. This one says three-quarter (inch) on it and this one has a “1” (inch) on it. Now, it’s small print but it’s big enough to see,” Aman said.

That would explain a billing multiplier error, which leads to higher bills, he said.

He added that the problem was first “identified in the audit back in (2007) and [the city] put in place, or were supposed to put in place, a whole system of checks and balances as they went through the rest of the system upgrade, and clearly they failed because we’re still finding these mismatches out there.”

Experts: U.S. water infrastructure in trouble

Operators of Lenox Square Mall and Phipps Plaza, two large shopping malls, complained about water billings “nearly $300,000 over last year for this same period of time,” according to another e-mail.

“There appears to be serious errors in the water billings that are creating huge hardships for both centers,” wrote Michael F. Romstead, regional vice president of Mid Atlantic Mall of Georgia. “We need the city’s full attention to correct the problem.”

The city responded by changing the meters’ registers. Romstead did not return calls to check whether the bills had gone back to normal, but there are no follow-up complaints in the city records supplied to CNN.

Asked about problems with the rest of the meters, Aman said, “The majority of the people who complain about high water bills have some issue that is not associated with the meter. Many, many of them have either leaks, or increases in usage through irrigation or pool filling that they didn’t fully understand the impact of, but that’s not to minimize the fact that we do have some cases of meters that aren’t functioning properly. And we’re addressing those on a case-by-case basis and giving people their money back. To me, the story here is there has been a complete loss of trust between the city and its citizens and its customers.”

The city has not found issues with meter manufacturer Neptune Technologies Inc. or Systems and Software Inc. which installed the billing software, Aman said. Executives at both companies declined interview requests. Two other contractors that installed meters at commercial locations did not return calls.

“We have not found a smoking gun, if you will, in terms of a system problem,” Aman told CNN.

However, he said the company that installed the residential meters should be held accountable. KHAFRA, an Atlanta-based firm, joined a Pennsylvania company to carry out the $40.3 million contract.

After months of calls, KHAFRA President Valentino Bates agreed to an interview, but only after CNN had spoken to Aman.

“When we ended the contract in December of 2009, we had a 90-day window to come in and address any concerns. No concerns were brought to us. So as of today sitting here with you, it is our understanding that the meters are functioning properly as they were supposed to when we installed them,” Bates said.

He said the company had identified 968 meters that had the mismatching problem, and fixed all of them by last March. The project, he said, was “very successful” and he added that he had not been informed about additional meter issues.

Asked if his company would repair any other meters the city said were not correctly installed, Bates told CNN, “If it is our problem, we will do that.”

Meanwhile, Atlanta residents continue to complain to the city, which received more than 22,000 calls to its Department of Watershed Management in January. And last year alone, there were a total of 12,291 water bill disputes, according to the city.

“Clearly, people are upset, and one of the things that we said to people is that we hear you and that we do believe we have problems in the water meter and billing system,” Aman said.

That doesn’t convince residents like Wilda Cobb, who is astounded at a water bill that now totals $10,071.

Her bill spiked to more than $1,200 in November, then skyrocketed to $6,879 in December.

“I am furious, I am upset, I’m confused,” Cobb said. “I can’t get an answer from the city because they won’t admit there is a problem.”

A city official reviewed Cobb’s bills, and said the unusually high usage for the two months would normally mean there was some kind of leak, possibly with the irrigation system. The city installed a data logger meter that tracks usage during each day.

Her latest bill is down to just $34.

Ironically, Cobb knows something about water issues. She’s an attorney for the Environmental Protection Agency.

“As I person, I know something’s wrong here,” Cobb said. “As an attorney, what can I do about it? But, I don’t think it takes a law degree to say $7,000 for a month’s use of water by one person in a small home is just crazy without a leak.”

Let It Rain

Green infrastructure strategies for cheap, effective, and beautiful rainwater management

January 2011

By Katharine Logan

Perhaps my most vivid memory of architecture school comes from a studio in which we built a model of a neighborhood design,and then poured water all over it. The trick was to use enough little pieces of sponge in the model, representing rainwater retention strategies at a variety of scales, so that no water spilled onto the floor. Across North America, regions and municipalities are now trying this trick for real. Why? Because the centuries-old approach of piping water off the land as fast as possible and dumping it into waterways is failing fast.

Each year in Philadelphia, a city with some of the oldest combined storm and sewer infrastructure in North America, billions of gallons of sewage over-flow from 164 outfalls into the city’s creeks, streams, and rivers during major rainstorms. In Milwaukee, a hospital study shows the number of children with serious diarrhea rising whenever the city’s sewers overflow. Run-off pollution from suburban and agricultural sources threatens New York City’s drinking water supply. And it’s estimated that every twenty-four months, rainwater run-off from the streets of Seattle flushes into Puget Sound a volume of oil equivalent to the Exxon Valdez spill.

Nor is the impact on water quality the full extent of the problem—the effecton water quantity is just as devastating. Conventional engineering practice treats rainwater as a problem to be carried off the land as quickly as possible. Under such circumstances, in a matter of hours pipes dump as much as a hundred times more water per minute into a stream than the stream, whose banks have stabilized over millennia, can accept. This wreaks havoc on fish habitat. In Vancouver, British Columbia, there were once over fifty salmon- and trout-bearing streams—by 2009, there were two.

Patrick Lucey is an aquatic ecologist and urban geographer, and one of the designers of the rainwater management system at South East False Creek, a LEED Platinum-certified neighborhood that served as Vancouver’s 2010 Olympic Village: “In shifting to sustainability by design,” Lucey says, ”we’re really talking about shifting from a 2,000-year-old engineering convention to a fundamentally new approach to municipal infrastructure.” This approach is a form of biomimicry, a system based on nature’s implicit design principles, which he sums up in three steps: capture, store, beneficial use.

Starting at the rooftops, green roofs at South East False Creek retain and use a varying amount of rainwater, depending on the season. Water that isn’t captured on the roofs is caught in basement cisterns. Until it’s used for landscape irrigation or toilet flushing, water from the cisterns circulates continuously through neighborhood water features. Not only does moving water delight human beings, the movement aerates it and exposes it to sunlight, which keeps it at a level of quality good enough to swim in.

Once it reaches the ground, water at South East False Creek is kept in the open. Streams that were once piped and buried have been brought back into the daylight. Site water makes its way across a variety of permeable and textured surfaces either to a bioswale on the eastern edge of the project or to Hinge Park wetland on the site’s western edge, and from there to False Creek.

Key to the success of South East False Creek’s rainwater system is the difference between total impermeable area and effective impermeable area. The green infrastructure at South East False Creek makes a high-density urban development behave in the watershed like a site with an impermeable area closer to zero. Along False Creek’s rehabilitated shoreline, herring have spawned for the first time in decades. “That’s amazing,” says Lucey, “herring are very sensitive. That must mean you guys got it right.”

A little further south, but still in rain country, Portland, Oregon’s pioneering work in rainwater management has produced some of the most inspiring examples of street edge rain gardens anywhere, winning awards two years in a row from the American Society of Landscape Architects.

The SW 12th Avenue Green Street Project, built in 2005, converts an underutilized stretch of ground between the sidewalk and the street into a series of four planters that capture, slow, and clean street runoff, and allow it to infiltrate into the earth. The planters effectively disconnect SW 12th from the conventional storm system, and handle the street’s 180,000 gallons of rainwater on site. More than that, planted with trees and well-composed plants, and with tumbled concrete pavers defining their place in the street, they’re beautiful.

Similarly, the NE Siskiyou Green Street Project, built in 2003, consists of two curb extensions, familiar as a traffic calming and pedestrian safety strategy, but with curb cuts to allow rain to flow into well-designed plantings behind them. Cheap and simple, the rain gardens manage NE Siskiyou’s day-to-day rainwater on site, and are projected to manage 85 percent of a 25-year storm.

As well as the technical success and aesthetic appeal of sustainable rainwater infrastructure, its cost-effectiveness warms its welcome with municipalities struggling to maintain outdated and overburdened pipe infrastructure. In Philadelphia, upgrading the existing combined storm and sewer system would cost over $10 billion. “There is no way in the world that we could ever pay for something like that,” Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter told an audience at the recent “Charting New Waters” conference in Washington, D.C. Instead, Philadelphia’s Green City Clean Waters program proposes to spend $1.6 billion to achieve a safe and sustainable rainwater management system using green infrastructure.

Philadelphia has set a goal of transforming at least a third of existing impervious cover in its combined sewer system drainage area over the next two decades into “greened acres” that will filter or store the first inch of each rainfall. That first inch, it turns out, is enormously significant. Except in Florida, most rainstorms in North America deliver less than an inch of rain per day. So if a site can infiltrate an inch a day, it will treat 80 to 90 percent of its rain on site.

An early adopter of green rainwater strategies, Philadelphia has already completed projects to reduce the imperviousness of its public domain, including the creation of raised bed vegetable gardens and rain gardens in school parking lots, tree trenches in road meridians, bioswales in parking lots, and sidewalk infiltration planters modeled after the Portland examples. Neighborhood basketball players particularly appreciate Philadelphia’s pervious asphalt basketball courts, which are dry enough to play on much sooner after rainfall than regular courts.

Not only is Philadelphia implementing the first inch strategy in the public realm, it is requiring it for any private development that disturbs more than 15,000 square feet of earth. As a result, rainwater management is integrated early in the zoning and building permit process.

The city provides information and support to homeowners wanting to collect roof runoff in rain barrels, disconnect downspouts to direct runoff to pervious areas, or use site slopes to create rain gardens. To encourage retrofitting commercial and residential property for on-site rainwater management, Philadelphia is phasing in an initiative, which separates stormwater billing from the water bill, and ties it to the impervious cover of the site.

The public response to Philadelphia’s green infrastructure agenda has been overwhelmingly positive (92 percent), according to the city’s water department. In response to its Green Streets Survey, the department heard the public say, “I love the idea! It would make us healthier and happier all around,” and “we are proud to be a model neighborhood.”

Katharine Logan is an architecturally trained and LEED-accredited writer based in British Columbia

This article appeared in the January 2011 print issue of GreenSource Magazine.