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Schools working to save water

COVINGTON - The Newton County School System is trying to do its part to save water - and it's working.

Since Georgia has hit extreme drought conditions, the maintenance and operations department at the NCSS has implemented plans to reduce water consumption at all county schools.

"All main line pressure regulators are set at the lowest operational setting to control pressure and flow within the buildings, all athletic sprinklers are off and toilets are set to the lowest operating pressure and volume per flush," said Deborah Robertson, associate superintendent for administration for the NCSS during Tuesday's Board of Education work session.

This is in addition to the normal monitoring for leaks.

"The water authority always calls me if anything looks out of line," said Bill Rosser, director of maintenance and operations at the school system. "It fluctuates, but if it looks high, we always know, and we'll go check on it."

Many old high-gallon toilets also were replaced as part of the water saving effort, Rosser said.

"The water savings from the toilets shows about four million gallons per year," he said, adding that the department will continue to change them out as needed.

The school system will reclaim its expenses in 1.45 years, he said.

"Also, we do have waterless urinals in place at all of the schools, and that's been over a three-year process," Robertson said Tuesday.

Rosser said those urinals save more than eight million gallons per year, taking 1.64 years to pay for themselves.

He said although the school system is not yet saving money directly from the new toilet purchases, it is saving on its water bill now.

Mike Hopkins, executive director for the Water and Sewerage Authority, said six schools - Newton High, Porterdale Elementary, Alcovy High, Veterans Memorial Middle, Fairview Elementary and Clements Middle - made it into the authority's Top 10 water users and that they have reduced their water usage by more than 40 percent for the month of October.

"And all of the schools in our system have made significant reduction as far as water usage," he said. "If they keep this up, it's going to be great."

Hopkins said Newton High and Porterdale Elementary schools, which are billed together, can have a monthly payment upwards of $1.1 million at a rate of $5 per 1,000 gallons.

"The average school uses about 150,000 to 200,000, and most of them are over 200,000 gallons per month," he said. "But for October, those bills are down."

Hopkins said many of the schools are having water levels that resemble the summer months, which tend to be low since school is not in session.

But just because the schools make it to the top water users list most of the year, doesn't mean they are breaking any rules or using an excess of water, Hopkins said.

"Of our 22,000 customers, about 98 percent of those are residential with an average of 5,000 to 10,000 gallons of water per month," he said. "But when you add in a system as large as the school system, it's going to look huge, but it doesn't mean they are sitting out there pouring water on the ground."

Hopkins said he wishes other Newton County residents would take the school system's lead.

"They've made a great effort," he said about the school system.

Some see part of the effort with a great cost, though.

The school nutrition program discontinued or will discontinue using dish machines in 11 of the schools, Robertson reported Tuesday.

"This will save approximately 250 gallons of water per hour at each school," her report reads. "Most schools operate the dish machines for approximately 2.5 to 3.5 hours per day. This should be a water savings for the district of between 6,875 to 9,625 gallons per day."

Instead of the reusable trays and utensils once used in those schools, they now will use plastic utensils and foam trays, or those made from "petroleum byproducts," said BOE member Cathy Dobbs.

She and Director of School Nutrition Jam Loomans agreed that by saving water, the use of the plastic material would hurt the environment by packing up landfills.

"Foams trays are only recyclable if somebody is willing to come take them," Loomans said, adding that she will continue to search for possible takers.

Cardboard or biodegradable trays also are not an option right now because of the high costs.

"Cardboard trays cost almost three times more," Loomans said.

The next step for the school system to reduce water consumption is installing low-flow, hands-free faucets and changing more toilets to low-flow models.

"Low-flow faucets would make as big or bigger impact on water savings than the urinals and toilets," Rosser said. "But we probably won't start those until the next budget time."

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.