COVINGTON -- The Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority is practicing what it preaches.
The authority has long taken a proactive approach to help consumers reduce water consumption to save money and help the environment, launching a website more than a year ago, www.savewaternewton.com, toward that end. Now, WASA is following its own advice and going green.
"If we're going to ask people to conserve and be good stewards of our water, then we need to do some things ourselves," said Executive Director Mike Hopkins.
Plans are under way for a small garden at WASA's headquarters on Brown Bridge Road to demonstrate xeriscaping, or landscaping that conserves water and protects the environment. Native drought-tolerant plant species needing minimal watering are typically used.
The garden will be an education tool for citizens interested in planting their own at home, said Hopkins. Plants will be labeled to assist them in deciding what varieties to buy.
"Showing people helps move things along versus sending a pamphlet that says 'Here's a list of 10 things to plant.' We'll still have the pamphlet, but you can come out and we can show you," Hopkins said.
Students with the University of Georgia's Metropolitan Design Studio in Clark's Grove will design the garden and come up with suggested plants in the coming weeks. In the process, they'll get feedback from WASA and get to experience a real-world client-customer relationship, Hopkins said.
Students at the design studio are taking on several local projects during their 10-week stay, including the design of a public park in Newborn.
"It really provides them with some real world experience and interaction with the community," lecturer Donnie Longenecker previously told the Citizen. "They get to roll up their sleeves and dive in and get really acclimated to what it's like to practice landscape architecture."
Hopkins said the cost to plant the garden will likely be included in next year's budget with planting to begin in the fall.
The garden is just one way WASA is trying to take the emphasis off enforcement, as was required during the drought of 2007, and focus instead on conservation by helping customers adopt new habits, Hopkins said.
"In 2007, when the drought was going on and there was a lot of growth, developers were putting in sodded yards. Managing turf grass is costly and expensive. I thought it was a good idea for us to ask what can we do to help the customer incorporate plants into their landscaping that are the right ones and don't require heavy irrigation and water usage," he said.
A rain barrel is also going to be installed on the site to explain how to capture and store rainwater for outdoor watering and other uses. The students have proposed collecting rainwater from WASA's maintenance facility for use in equipment instead of clean, potable water, Hopkins said.
In addition, WASA has had an energy audit conducted to identify ways to better conserve; added tinted windows to its facility, as well as insulation and programmable thermostats; and is planning to replace the HVAC system when necessary with a more energy efficient unit.
WASA is also constructing a 4-million-gallon ground storage tank on Kirkland Road that will conserve energy by allowing the main pump station to shut down at times during the summer months, when it usually runs day and night, Hopkins said. The authority received 30 percent forgiveness on a loan from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority, saving about $853,000, because it is an energy efficient project, Hopkins said. The 40-foot tower is being constructed with about 20 feet underground to avoid the visual impact to the surrounding area, he added. The tank will be completed before summer.