Tackling Georgia’s Water Shortage

In recent years, water shortage has affected a number of regions across the nation. Georgia, specifically, has been in the midst of a severe drought that has led to water bans affecting millions in the Atlanta area.

Water & Wastes Digest recently spoke with Jeff Garwood, president and CEO of GE Water & Process Technologies, about GE’s role in helping Georgia overcome its water shortage.

WWD: In December, GE Water & Process Technologies and Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce held Georgia’s largest Water Sustainability Forum. What was the purpose of the forum?

Jeff Garwood: The forum was a thought leadership conference that brought together water experts from government, municipalities and business to explore sustainable approaches to tackle Georgia’s water shortage. North Georgia is in its second year of an unprecedented drought that is stressing water reserves for Metro Atlanta and surrounding areas.

Our forum was an open discussion to broaden awareness and expand on everyone’s role in developing technology, policy and conservation strategies that can help the region reduce, reuse and replenish water supplies. The forum also offered attendees practical workshops that covered short-term strategies to achieve the recent 10% water reduction directive and strategies to achieve long-term water sustainability in preparation for future water challenges. The Metro Atlanta area, which is home to about half of Georgia’s population, has grown by 20% from 2000 to 2006. All stakeholders have to work together to ensure that sustainable water supplies will be available for continued growth and prosperity in the state.

WWD: Who participated in the forum, and what were the key elements of the conference?

Garwood: More than 200 guests from Georgia businesses, government and utilities joined us for the forum. Our morning session featured an incredible lineup of speakers that included Senator Johnny Isakson; Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin; Sam Olens, chairman of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners and the Atlanta Regional Commission; and John Rice, vice chairman of GE.

Dr. Wayne Clough, president of the Georgia Institute of Technology, moderated a panel discussion that I participated in, along with Dr. Carol Couch, director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division; Jack Dozier, executive director of the Georgia Association of Water Professionals; David Kubala, environmental affairs manger for the Cherokee County Water & Sewerage Authority; and Gregory Koch, managing director of Global Water Stewardship for the Coca-Cola Co.

During lunch, Congressman John Linder addressed our guests, and in the afternoon, we offered breakout sessions. Four [key] areas included municipal, industrial, green buildings and long-term water sustainability planning.

WWD: What role will GE play in helping Georgia overcome its water shortage?

Garwood: As a technology provider, we will work with industries and municipalities to find ways to reduce water usage, reuse water that is already available and explore alternatives such as seawater desalination for sustainable new sources. Municipal water reuse with GE technology is already occurring in Gwinnett County, Fulton County and Forsyth County, to name a few. Our advanced filtration equipment and chemical treatment offerings can also help to reduce water consumption and reuse processes water in nonpotable applications such as cooling towers or other purposes.

As a member of the business community, GE is looking at its own plants in Georgia and evaluating and implementing water usage reductions at each of them.

WWD: What sustainability options were presented at the forum that you think will help Georgia reduce water demand and increase water reserves?

Garwood: There is no one solution that is going to solve the water shortage in Georgia; however, there are some options that could have a big impact.

During the forum, I had the opportunity to speak with representatives from several manufacturing and utility companies and was surprised to learn how many of them reuse little or none of their water. It may still be cheaper for industries to continue drawing water from the Chattahoochee River and other surface water sources in Georgia, but as supplies tighten, municipal drinking water requirements will take priority over other uses. As a result, the cost of water will likely increase for industrial users while supplies will decrease. This means industries must find ways to maximize every drop of water and reduce their demands on municipal supplies.

Seawater desalination is another option that should be carefully considered. There has already been some talk of desalination technology to provide coastal cities with freshwater or even constructing a pipeline to bring the water 250 miles inland to Atlanta. These are all possible solutions, but in order for Atlanta to continue to prosper, it must find new, sustainable water supplies soon.

Neda Simeonova is editorial director for Water & Wastes Digest. She can be reached at 847.391.1011 or by e-mail at nsimeonova @sgcmail.com

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