Atlanta Department of Watershed Management Commissioner Rob Hunter has announced that the department has stopped selling irrigation meters and notified all irrigation customers that further watering without proof of an exemption will be considered illegal.

Irrigation meters are sold specifically for outdoor watering. They are billed only for water usage not for sewer usage, which constitutes the largest part of the typical water/sewer bill, because the output does not go into the sewer system.

“The difference between large urban areas like Metro Atlanta and some rural areas is that the water we take out of the river is mostly returned to the river in the form of highly treated wastewater,” noted Hunter. “That is not true of the water from irrigation meters. Since most outdoor watering is banned under the current drought restrictions, the use of irrigation meters is generally subject to the restrictions.”

A list of exemptions to the watering ban can be found at www.atlantawatershed.org. Exceptions fall into two primary categories: new landscaping installed by a professional landscaper and watering that is an essential activity of a business, such as car washes and pressure-washing companies.

The city has mailed letters to its irrigation customers explaining the Level 4 drought restrictions and noting that customers with exemptions should provide the information to the city. If no exemption information is on file, customers will be penalized if their irrigation meter bills show usage after Sept. 28 when the restrictions went into effect.

“We are well aware of the seriousness of the situation, and we are taking all appropriate steps to ensure that we conserve water whenever and wherever possible,” Hunter said.