EPA administrator stresses water conservation

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   Households in the United States lose an average of 14 percent of water through leaks without ever using it, according to Christine Whitman, administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
   "That's like paying a 14 percent sales tax on something you don't get to use," Whitman said Thursday. August is "Water Efficiency Month," part of the EPA's celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act.
   According to EPA, a typical family of four spends about $820 on water supply fees and sewer charges per year and an additional $230 on heating the water. In many communities, the water and sewer costs can be twice that amount or higher.
   "Water is truly a staple of our existence and using that water efficiently needs to be part of our daily lives," said Whitman. "Fixing a leaky faucet, toilet or lawn watering system can reduce water consumption. Changing to water-efficient plumbing fixtures and appliances can be major water and energy savers as well."
   Whitman said she believes water is the biggest environmental issue Americans will face in the 21st century in terms of both quantity and quality.
   "The drought this summer is reminding many Americans of the need to appreciate clean water as an invaluable resource. As the U.S. population increases, the need for clean water supplies continues to grow dramatically and puts additional stress on our limited water resources. We can all take steps to save and conserve this valuable resource," she said.
   Locally, residents of the Dry Hollow community in Stoney Creek, and residents in the Fish Springs/Elk Mills areas already have been confronted by water shortages. In the last several years, the city of Elizabethton has had to implement water restrictions as a result of drought conditions, followed by a drinking water advisory due to summer flooding. Many Johnson City residents recently were without water for a couple days after a main line ruptured. Carter County volunteer fire departments responded with mutual aid, trucking tanker after tanker of water to Johnson City Medical Center and the Veterans Administration Hospital until the crisis could be averted.
   Tennessee Valley Authority is in the process of conducting a two-year Reservoir Operations Study to look at how the agency manages the Tennessee River System and its reservoirs. The study examines issues such as flood control, navigation, electricity, water quality, economic growth, water supply, recreation and land use.
   The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has suspended issuance of any new inter-basin water transfer permits in the southeast part of the state for the next two years until TVA completes its river operations study. The study will be used by the state to determine the appropriateness of water transfers in the future.
   Since the Inter-Basin Water Transfer Act's passage two years ago, TDEC has issued a permit to withdraw water from the Cumberland River at Clarksville, Tenn., to service communities in central Kentucky. A transfer of 5 million gallons per day also was approved to be withdrawn from the Tennessee River at Chattanooga to serve Bradley and Polk counties in Tennessee and portions of Whitfield County in northern Georgia.
   The city of Kingsport was issued a permit in March to transfer 0.15 million gallons per day from the Holston/Watauga river basin to the French Broad/Nolichucky river basin. The city of Lafayette also was issued a permit in March to transfer 0.25 million gallons per day from the Barren River Basin to the Lower Cumberland Basin. Other proposed transfers range from 150,000 to 500,000 gallons of water per day.
   The Inter-Basin Water Transfer Act, signed into law in May 2000, was developed to address increasing demands for water and apparent trends to move water from where it is available to where it is limited, regardless of cost. The Sundquist administration developed the bill to address inter-basin transfers of water that could negatively impact downstream users.
   According to EPA, about 8 percent of America's total energy production is used to treat, pump and heat water.