COVINGTON - Local water providers have collectively reduced wholesale purchases by 7.5 percent since this time last year, according to a new report by the Newton County Water Resources Department.
That's an improvement from November's reduction rate of 6.3 percent, but it still falls short of the 10 percent goal set by Gov. Sonny Perdue.
When calculated on a per customer basis, the reduction rate rises to 11.5 percent.
The rates does not include Walton County, which has increased by 20 percent its purchases from Newton County due to a loss of supply from Oconee County.
Factoring in Walton's County's usage, the utilities total reduction rate is 4.2 percent.
In related news, Lake Varner is up more than 3 feet since it reached its lowest recorded point on Nov. 23.
The Newton County Drought Response Team met for a third time Wednesday for an update on water conservation efforts. The team includes water providers whose raw water supply is drawn from Lake Varner or City Pond.
A total of nine utilities are represented: the cities of Covington, Porterdale, Oxford, Mansfield and Newborn; the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority; the Walton County Water and Sewerage Authority; and the Jasper County Water and Sewer Authority. The Newton County Water Resources Department is assisting providers with water conservation efforts.
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division is evaluating utilities that do not meet the 10 percent reduction goal on a case-by-case basis.
Water Resources Director Karl Kelley is asking the EPD to consider Newton County a special case, saying the county has little direct control over production quantity.
"We have been and continue to work closely with our utility customers to help them in their conservation efforts, but we simply have no mechanism to reduce our production if they are unable to reduce their consumption," Kelley stated in a questionnaire sent by the EPD to all permit holders that did not meet the 10 percent reduction in November.
Kelley also asks that the utilities be evaluated collectively as well as individually because "their performances as a whole represents the impact on Newton County's withdrawal permit."
"We also point out that the reduction requirement does not account for growth in customer base. It is patently unfair to disregard such growth. We urge EPD to evaluate compliance on the basis of total customers or on a per capita basis if that data is available," Kelley said.
Most utilities have seen a reduction in usage.
Leading the pack is Jasper County with a reduction of 28.3 percent, followed by the city of Covington, at 25.7 percent, the city of Porterdale at 14.9 percent, Mansfield at 10.2 percent and Newborn at 7 percent.
Oxford saw an increase in usage of 12.8 percent and Walton County an increase of 4.3 percent.
"I think we're progressing as well as I expected. There's always room for improvement," Kelley said.
The Drought Response Team discussed new measures that could be taken to further reduce usage.
One idea under consideration is to implement conservation pricing, or charging more per gallon for water use above a certain threshold.
Another is increasing the penalties for outdoor watering.
The Drought Response Team will meet again the second week of February.
Crystal Tatum can be reached at email@example.com.