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Business big in fighting water crisis

Published November 4, 2007 12:00 am

Companies take lead in helping Atlanta weather extreme drought
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

ATLANTA - Urinals without water. Fountains without water. A waterfall without water.

Dry is the goal as United Parcel Service Inc., Coca-Cola Co. and other top companies in the Atlanta area lead the rally to cut water use in response to the region's most extreme drought since at least the 1920s.

Metropolitan Atlanta, which has added more new residents than any other U.S. city since 2000, may face limits on growth if the shortage persists, business officials said. And many worry that the water-saving efforts might not be enough to head off a near-term crisis.

''It is the No. 1 topic that businesses are concerned about,'' said John Somerhalder II, CEO of AGL Resources Inc., which provides natural gas in Atlanta. He also is vice chairman of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce's environmental committee.

UPS, the world's biggest package-delivery company, is following the lead of many businesses and facilities in the West and using urinals that drain without water. Coca-Cola turned off the fountain in front of its Atlanta headquarters and canceled planting of new flowers that would require watering, said spokeswoman Kirsten Witt.

Delta Air Lines Inc., Atlanta's largest air carrier, has cut water use at its operations center 50 percent since 2003, said spokeswoman Betsy Talton. The airline still washes planes to reduce drag during flight and improve fuel efficiency, but its goal is to reduce water use by an additional 30 percent, she said.

Even the city's aquarium found ways to save a few drops. The Georgia Aquarium bills itself as the world's largest, with 8 million gallons of water that is home to sharks, sea lions, coral and other aquatic life.

The aquarium, in downtown Atlanta, temporarily cut off a waterfall. For two other water-gushing features, the shutdown is permanent. A lake and a moat are being replaced with sand and art, said Dave Santucci, spokesman.

''The big businesses have gotten the idea,'' said Sam Booher, an Augusta resident who monitors water issues in Georgia for the Sierra Club. ''They are looking ahead.''

Yet the fears persist that the moves may be too late.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that Lake Lanier, the city's reservoir, may run out of clean water in about 110 days without consistent and persistent rainfall. The area has received 25 inches of rain this year, half the usual amount. The scarcity of tropical systems is one reason, said Dan Dixon, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Miami.

Gov. Sonny Perdue on Oct. 20 declared a state of emergency in 85 counties, and three days later ordered utilities and water systems to reduce consumption by 10 percent. He urged Georgians to keep their cars dirty as a badge of honor.

The shortfall is hurting some companies and employees. An estimated 14,000 landscaping workers in the Atlanta area have been laid off since June, said Mary Kay Woodworth, executive director of the Metro Atlanta Landscape and Turf Association. Stone Mountain Park canceled plans for a snow-making, winter-themed attraction because it would require 1.2 million gallons of water. The park features granite carvings of Confederate war heroes and a light show.

North of Atlanta, recreational fishing is in a slump. Starboard Cove Marina in Flowery Branch normally has 475 boats docked on the water. Most are dry-docked.

''It's depressing to see all these boats sitting on land,'' said Wendy Phillips, dockmaster. ''Pray for rain.''

Further water cutbacks may leave Georgia's chicken producers high and dry.

''The only way for many poultry operations to conserve a significant amount of water at this point is to reduce production,'' said Mike Giles, senior vice president of the Georgia Poultry Federation, whose members include Tyson Foods Inc. and Perdue Farms Inc.

The water shortage, along with traffic jams and the need to improve schools, could limit the city's growth, said Roger Tutterow, an economist with Mercer University. The metro area's population was 5.14 million in July 2006, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

About 55 percent of Atlanta's water is used by homes, with 21 percent going to office buildings, hotels and restaurants, according to the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District.

Coca-Cola and its bottlers have cut water use by 6 percent a year the past three years, saving 100 million gallons since 2005, the company said in a report. UPS, in addition to testing dry urinals, switched to dry-mopping delivery trucks, saving 10,000 gallons a day, said spokeswoman Heather Robinson.

Spray-on green was the answer for Georgia Institute of Technology, which hasn't watered the grass in its football stadium since Oct. 4, said Wayne Hogan, spokesman. Golf courses, including Atlanta's East Lake Golf Club, site of the U.S. PGA Tour's season-ending Tour Championship, are watering only their putting surfaces.

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin urged residents to understand that it's more important to have water for drinking and firefighting than for keeping lawns lush.

''It doesn't seem like people are concerned enough,'' said Mickey Mellen, 31, who tracks the water situation on a blog, www.atlantawatershortage .com. ''What happens when we run out? Nobody has a real answer.''

Blogger who tracks the water situation on http://www.atlantawatershortage.com