According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. population has doubled over the last 50 years and so has our use of water. At least 36 states face water shortages each year. Conserving water is becoming more critical. In DeKalb County, the Department of Watershed Management oversees water conservation efforts through the county’s watershed management programs. Watershed Management, along with many other county departments, is committed to giving DeKalb County residents the information, tools and resources necessary to use water more efficiently while protecting our environment. Following is a list of the ordinances and programs available to citizens in DeKalb County. All of these programs combined ensure the health of our water ways, the source of our drinking water, venues for recreation and critical habitat for wildlife. Visit the Department of Watershed Management website for water conservation information.
Indoor Water Conservation Opportunities
On January 8, 2008, the Department of Watershed Management began offering a Toilet Retrofit Rebate Program to active DeKalb County water customers whose homes were built prior to 1993. This program assists customers in replacing their old toilets with efficient water-conserving toilets to conserve water and money. To be eligible, toilets that are being replaced must have been installed prior to 1993. For a rebate application, click here.
Buildings and homes constructed in DeKalb County after January 1, 1993 are required to be built with water conserving plumbing fixtures like ultra-low flow toilets and showerheads. Homes built prior to 1993 may not have upgraded plumbing fixtures. An ordinance passed in February 2008 requires that any home sold after June 1, 2008 must be certified as having low flow fixtures installed by the homeowner. To see the ordinance, click here.
The term “greywater” is used to describe wastewater from homes and industry that does not contain human waste. Wastewater containing human waste is called sewage or blackwater. Greywater can be taken from the waste stream and treated to be used for irrigation, flushing toilets, and other non-potable uses. Greywater is not meant to be used as drinking water. The use of recycled greywater saves money by reducing the amount of treatment necessary for reuse and conserves water taken from lakes and rivers.
Fats, Oils, and Grease (FOG)
Fats, Oil and Grease (FOG) enter plumbing systems through home garbage disposals, the kitchen sink and toilets. It then coats the inside of residents’ plumbing pipes and also empties into the county's sewer system. Think of this as hardening of the arteries; when cholesterol builds up in your bloodstream, it causes a heart attack. When FOG hardens in the sewer system, it eventually causes a sanitary sewer overflow (SSO) where wastewater can back up into homes, businesses or manholes.
DeKalb County code requires the installation of FOG interceptors for food service establishments to reduce sanitary sewer overflows. Residents can reduce their FOG build-up, and protect the wastewater system by following a few simple steps:
- Allow grease to cool to a safe temperature after cooking before disposing.
- Never pour oil from fryers down the drain.
- Allow grease to harden before disposal.
For more information about commercial permits, compliance or disposal of fats, oil, and grease, visit the DeKalb County Department of Watershed Management’s FOG website.
Outdoor Water Conservation Opportunities
Rain Barrel Workshops and County Conservation Efforts
DeKalb County offers rain barrel workshops to demonstrate to homeowners how to construct and use rain barrels. Rain barrels capture rain water from rooftops and store it for future use on gardens and lawns. This helps to reduce water use from the tap and save money. Rain barrel workshops are offered by the Department of Watershed Management.
DeKalb County Government has installed rain barrels and retention ponds to help in the efforts of water conservation practices. Click here to review installations and gallons of water saved.
A rain garden is a garden located in a low-lying area that captures run-off from roofs, driveways or parking lots where it slowly soaks into the soil. Rain gardens reduce the amount of stormwater that runs into storm drains decreasing water pollution in nearby rivers and streams. Planting a rain garden provides a garden that is easy to maintain, needs little or no watering, and serves as habitat for butterflies, birds and other wildlife. For more information about rain gardens, click here.
Xeriscaping is a method of landscape design that minimizes water use. Xeriscaping and xerogardening reduce or eliminate the need for supplemental water from irrigation. When water restrictions are in place, xeriscape plants tend to survive and thrive while more common landscape plants may suffer. To learn more about how to xeriscape, download the xeriscape guide from the Department of Watershed Management.
Conservation pricing is the cost structure used by county governments to encourage water conservation. In DeKalb County, there is a tiered pricing system that incentivizes residential and commercial customers who use less water. Basically, the more water a home uses, the higher the cost of the water becomes. The intent of conservation pricing is to encourage people to conserve water by charging a higher price for more use. The lower initial cost ensures that people have an adequate supply of water for most household uses at a reasonable cost. For more information about conservation pricing, contact the Department of Watershed Management.
The source of DeKalb County’s drinking water is the Chattahoochee River. Streams in DeKalb County are protected and restored by a combination of ordinances and programs aimed at reducing pollutants and unsightly trash. The county stream buffer ordinance limits development within 75 feet of streams. The Adopt-A-Stream program provides residents with tools to monitor the health of stream segments in their area. The FEMA floodplain buyout program provides the county with the tools to purchase flood-prone homes and restore floodplains to their full function. Residential septic tank systems are inspected and homeowners are advised on the maintenance of the tanks to reduce leaking and pollution of waterways. The Stormwater Utility program provides funds to the county for the maintenance of storm drain systems to reduce erosion and flooding. All of these programs combined ensure the health of our water ways, the source of our drinking water, venues for recreation, and critical habitat for wildlife.
The state of Georgia requires that a 25-foot buffer be maintained between the edge of a stream and any new development. DeKalb County requires an additional 50 feet of buffer (for a total of 75 feet). Vegetated buffers near streams provide for filtration of storm water runoff, shade water in streams, and allow wildlife a critical corridor for moving throughout an ecosystem. Any proposed development in the state or county buffer requires a variance from the appropriate agency. To learn more about the stream buffer ordinance, click here.
Stream restoration means repairing stream channels and/or stream banks to their original function, conveying water from the surrounding area (watershed) downstream, transporting sediments effectively, and providing habitat for wildlife. All of these actions repair the environmental health of the stream and improve the quality of life for DeKalb residents. Without these critical functions, flooding may occur, the quality of drinking water can be impaired, and there may be no fish to catch or eat.
A degraded stream may be full of trash and debris, have banks caving in, and be devoid of insects, fish, and amphibians. An effective restoration project includes clearing out and rebuilding the channel, restoring the slope and vegetation of the banks, and reconnecting the stream to its floodplain. DeKalb County is actively restoring streams and buffers on county-owned land whenever resources allow.
FEMA Floodplain Buyout Program
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides grants to local jurisdictions to purchase property in floodplains that have historically suffered repeated flooding and home damage. The homes are removed and the floodplain is restored to its natural functions. DeKalb County has been one of the nation’s leaders in receiving these grants from FEMA. DeKalb County has purchased and demolished 125 homes that were in the floodplain. The Roads and Drainage Division of Public Works administers the program.
If your home has a septic system, it requires regular maintenance to prevent costly damage and repairs. Septic systems are designed to safely use natural processes to treat and dispose of the wastewater generated in your home. If a septic system is not maintained, untreated human waste may contaminate drinking water supplies and negatively impact the environment. Keeping your septic system working properly is a wise investment for economic, human health, and environmental reasons. For a guide on how to properly maintain your septic system, click here.
Becoming environmental stewards is an important part of protecting and conserving our water resources. Adopt-A-Stream is a program that allows volunteers to learn more about the streams, lakes and wetlands around them. The Georgia Adopt-A-Stream program is coordinated through the DeKalb Department of Watershed Management and administered by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. DeKalb County participates in the program with coordination from the Natural Resources Management Office. Community volunteers adopt a section of a stream and conduct chemical, visual and/or biological surveys along the waterway. Data is submitted to the EPD and provides the state with a long-term overview of the health of our streams. To learn more about Adopt-a-Stream or to participate in a workshop, click here.
Rivers Alive is Georgia's annual volunteer waterway cleanup event that targets all waterways in the state including streams, rivers, lakes, beaches, and wetlands. The mission of Rivers Alive is to create awareness of and involvement in the preservation of Georgia's water resources. Rivers Alive is held annually each fall and is sponsored by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Environmental Protection Division and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs' Keep Georgia Beautiful Program, in cooperation with Help the Hooch. To learn more about Rivers Alive, call the Department of Watershed Management’s Environmental Outreach at (770) 724-1456.
The Stormwater Utility fee program was developed by DeKalb County as a reasonable and effective funding mechanism to address stormwater drainage issues and concerns. The fees provide for an equitable assignment of costs because property owners pay fees in direct proportion to the demand placed on the stormwater drainage system by their property’s runoff. The Stormwater Utility fees that are collected from property owners are used to sustain and improve the county's stormwater drainage system. This is accomplished by repairing, upgrading, and performing preventative maintenance on structures such as catch basins, pipes, culverts, detention ponds, and headwalls. To read a Q&A about DeKalb County’s Stormwater Utility fees, click here.