Robins officials encourage water conservation Published Oct. 26, 2007 By Holly Birchfield 78 ABW/PA Robins Air Force Base, Ga. -- Water conservation is a hot topic at Robins, just as it is for the rest of Georgia. Robins' environmental management officials are emphasizing the importance of adhering to water restrictions made by Georgia's Environmental Protection Division recently. Bob Sargent, natural and cultural resources manager in the 78th Civil Engineer Group's Environmental Management Division, said Lake Lanier and Lake Altoona are at record lows. "Really, we've been dealing with significant drought in Georgia for eight to 10 years," he said. "In the summer of 2000 here, we were dealing with drought-associated issues on the base. We had restrictions back then concerning the way we irrigated landscaping." Mr. Sargent said Robins' wildlife has suffered from the drought too. Russ Adams, water quality program manager in the 78th CEG, said a drought's impact is far reaching. "A drought is an extended period of time where a region realizes a deficiency in its water supply," he said. "Water supplies can be ground water or surface water. The drought occurs when a region receives consistently below average precipitation, and droughts can have a substantial impact on the ecosystem and agriculture of the affected region." Mr. Adams said the problem lingers. "We are still in a drought here," he said. "Just because we have received a lot of rain locally does not relieve us from the drought conditions that are statewide." For that reason, it's important for people to strictly follow the outdoor water use schedule put in place April 18 when Georgia EPD director Carol Couch declared the state to be in a Drought Level 2 status, Mr. Adams said. People's outdoor water use is based on their street address. People in even numbered homes may water from midnight to 10 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. Residents in odd numbered homes may water during the hours of midnight to 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. No outdoor water use is allowed on Fridays. Mr. Sargent said the schedule benefits conservation and plant life. "People have a tendency to water their lawns when they get home from work, and of course we are, at that time of the day, just getting past peak air temperatures," he said. "So, a substantial amount of water that you put on your landscaping in the late afternoon ends up getting wasted because it gets evaporated right back into the atmosphere." Mr. Sargent said Georgia's rainfall level is below normal. "Georgia typically gets 43 to 54 inches of rain per year," he said. "Over the last 10 years, we've had far more drought years than average years. We've had years where we were 10 and 11 inches below average rainfall within the last six or seven years. All of those years stack up and it becomes a cumulative problem." North Georgia has had the most impact where water supply comes from surface water in lakes. Middle Georgia gets its water from an aquifer located several hundred feet below the ground, Mr. Sargent said. With Lake Lanier's water level dramatically down and the forecast for winter rain looking dim, Mr. Sargent said there's reason for concern. Mr. Adams said people should save water any way possible. "Water is one of our most precious resources and it's often overlooked because people have the perception that we have plenty of rain so there must be plenty of water," he said. "But, now, we find ourselves in a reactionary crisis management mode because of the drought, and we all must pull together in this state to prevent a catastrophe by conserving water." Conserving water isn't hard, Mr. Sargent said. Watering lawns only once a week saves water and helps promote deep roots in plants and grasses. Mr. Sargent said people should put about an inch of water on their lawns and cut their grass to about three-quarters of an inch to create deeper roots and hold in moisture. Putting mulch around trees and shrubs also helps conserve water by helping soil stay wet instead of being dried by the sun. Make sure nozzles on timer-controlled sprayers are directed on the lawn and set only for authorized watering times, Mr. Sargent said. Mr. Sergeant also recommends using soaker hoses which use water more efficiently. Mr. Sargent said local nurseries often have plants that are drought tolerant to help cut the amount of water needed. Pulling water-zapping weeds also helps conserve water. In addition to landscaping practices, Mr. Sargent said taking baths instead of showers, using a low-flow showerhead and low-flush systems for toilets, and turning off water when not in use can all save significant amounts of water. Mark Summers, chief of the Compliance Branch in 78th CEG, said people should take the drought seriously. "I see people even in my neighborhood that are constantly watering their grass and I don't think that people will change until they see a higher water bill and see water pressure dropping off," he said. "Obviously, anything that we can do on a daily basis to conserve just a gallon or two makes an overall huge impact." Robins is doing its part, Mr. Adams said. The base is participating in a countywide study on ground water sources. "We've been working with county municipalities over the last two years in measuring and studying the water levels within the aquifer," Mr. Adams said. "Trends over the last two-year period are showing that our groundwater levels are decreasing slightly and that clearly shows (how) the lack of rainfall isn't replenishing aquifers." While Middle Georgia isn't in present danger of losing its water supply, the Georgia EPD's Water Council is finalizing a statewide water management plan. Mr. Adams said the plan consists of three new concepts to create a more integrated water management policy for Georgia. Robins is reviewing the plan and providing comments on how the plan will affect Robins. The Water Council is accepting comments on the new plan through Oct. 30. People can offer comments at www.georgiawaterplan.org.