Water Manifesto

After 10 years in Atlanta promoting domestic water conservation, which is # 1or2 in rates and a 1% sales tax to keep it from being higher, I wonder why the best investment in the environment is not realized. Frustration! Is it a conspiracy, is there something in the water or does the public and the industry not realize the potential in savings in water and money by assessing their water use. It seems only when the lake gets low is their concern. We get up in the morning drink it up and then flush it down. Like magic it goes away. Magic? When things don’t work right we blame the Man (utility) for not keeping things running smooth even when it is our fault from lack of maintenance and investment. Even though we complain about the price, it is still cheaper then gas.

Are other communities having this problem. Probably.

This is not a bash against the system, but this is a wake up call for those who care, an observation from an outsider.

The public does not understand the system, because the system has not educated the public. The system includes the following:

Utilities, Plumbing Firms, Engineering Firms, Government Organizations, NGO’s – (Non Government Organizations…)

There is an effort to educate, but the history of the utilities is to come up with solutions. They are not ableor willing to invest monetarily in mechanisms to get the message out to the public or quantify the effectiveness of their effort. The plumbing industry has made an effort through advertising to share their history and try to make their attributes cute or important, but few share their ability to save their clients money, appreciate the importance of water, the infrastructure and how it works. Our water system has problems, but it does work. It needs help to support the magical infrastructure that has fallen to disrepair and realize how much water is needed to fill our needs. This message has not reached the public on how it works and what needs to be done.

Energy gets the message out and seems to be the sexy industry. I think water is sexier. It glistens on well-shaped bodies, increases the price of homes reflected on its shore and is so fun to float on that people pay a lot of money to play on it.

  • Utilities: Do the best they can with a limited budget
  • Plumbing Firms: Advertise in general with public sharing there attributes or specific services
  • Engineering Firms: Promote their services and qualities to there clients
  • NGO’s – Non Government Organizations and Government Organizations: Do the best they can with a limited budget.

I am not trying to blame an industry as an outsider, but expose a problem, share what I see and offer solutions. After 20 years in the advertising and photography industry I see advertising works. Utilities share your assets for regional public relations. AWWA for example could combine its resources and put out national campaigns about water conservation. Same rules apply to other utility organizations. Add 2% to your projects and put it in a fund to educate. Hire professionals, buy ad time, and push social media strong.

I love to visit restrooms and flush the toilets. Every now and then I find a lonnnnng flush. 10-12 seconds about 5-6 gallons, many in LEED certified buildings. My favorite one was a toilet in a college stadium in Maryland 68 seconds. I could not believe it, so I flushed it twice. Damn just wasted another 34 gallons of water and did not have pee. When I asked someone passing by about it, they said it had been going on for a while.

As the audit shows less then a 2 year return and that even includes a rainwater system. Simple assessments with verified savings can save sooo much water and sooo much money.


I’m sure other cities with high water rates can see attractive results, but to find out how much can be saved you have to do the audit. The average payback in Atlanta is 2.4 years as the second attachment shows. Some have been upgraded others? A commercial solar installer told me they are happy with a 5-year payback.What is needed to complete the process? Water bills, data on occupancy and all of the water uses need to be poured into the data pot and then modeled into a plan. It is important to take a holistic look at the use. Some areas have incredible returns such as aerators and showerheads, which off set the longer returns of toilets, urinals and cisterns. Going after partial upgrades and modifications just to reduce the cost such as dual flush handles or lower flowing diaphragms misses the true benefit of a complete upgrade. Install submeters and technology to monitor water use and notify of leaks. They will pay for themselves when something goes wrong and you know it will.

Maintence is a problem that can be remedied with regular inspections, monitoring water bills and installing monitoring devices to discover leaks. The solutions are relatively painless and easy to apply. It just takes a little effort and a little money to invest in the future, our future and their future.

As for a solution get the local water authorities and regional planning associations to create a Water Liaison position and partner with local plumbing and mechanical firms to get the word out through there advertising programs. Organization using water such as garden clubs and urban farmers could use their network to update member on conservation and weather/water issues. PSA’s and partnerships with media outlets could use cheap or unused time to promote the message. Get out and go to the meetings socialize and have fun.

Local water authorities and regional planning associations should create a program to educate the following on the basics of water conservation:

  • Educate the urban farming, gardening and urban landscaping community through consistent networking and articles in newsletters with their organizations.
  • Educate the residential and business community through professional organizations by networking and articles in newsletters consistently.
  • Promote water conservation and educate the public about water through partnering with plumbing and mechanical firms through their advertising campaigns.
  • Teach about water at all levels of education K-12, not just the young kids.
  • Utilities add 2% to project budgets to create a fund for education.

What needs to be done? Plumbing and mechanical firms need to add water conservation to their ad campaigns and services as well as offer water maintenance programs similar to HVAC programs. Get out and network. Get to know the public and share your services. There is soooo much opportunity.


Steve Williams, The Water Guy