A homemade rain barrel.

Weatherwise, it’s been a summer of sharp contrasts in metro Atlanta. Weeks of hot, dry weather have been punctuated by torrential rain storms that have kept the plants in my yard sporadically happy and local lakes and rivers mostly full.
While a portion of northern Georgia was considered “abnormally dry” in July, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, our water supplies are in pretty good shape this year for most of the state.
But, in California, it’s a different story. It is in its fourth year of an “exceptional drought” with no end in sight. Residents in communities throughout the state have been ordered to conserve water or face consequences, and “drought shaming” of those with well-watered lawns or other signs of excessive water consumption has become commonplace.
Six years ago, we were experiencing our own exceptional drought here in Atlanta. Given recent trends, it’s just a matter of time before another drought comes our way. The question is whether or not we’ll be more prepared for the next one than we were for the last.
A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey concludes that water use decreased significantly in Georgia during the decade from 2000 to 2010 when we experienced two major droughts.
While this decrease was largely due to the move from coal-fired power plants – which use large volumes of water – to gas-fired plants, it is also apparent that people are beginning to get in the habit of conserving water, whether we’re in a drought or not. And that’s good news.
I love my garden as much as any other Southerner, and one of the best places I’ve found to reduce my personal water use is through rainwater harvesting to sustain my plants during Atlanta’s hot summers. Every time we have another downpour, my rain barrel captures and stores 60 gallons of water that falls on my roof, before it can enter a storm drain and disappear.
Rainwater harvesting is an easy and effective technique to cope with drought, reduce storm runoff and increase our available water resources. Reducing Atlanta’s water demand also means that less water needs to be withdrawn from local rivers, keeping them as healthy as possible.
Georgia Tech, Emory and other colleges have installed rainwater harvesting systems on their campuses that are delivering significant amounts of water for non-potable uses. Businesses are also investing in rain harvesting systems to maintain the appearance of their landscaping and reduce their water bills.
The city of Atlanta is hosting a rain barrel workshop on Sept. 23 from 11a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Water Works Lodge, 655 Green Street, NW. The fee of $40 includes a rain barrel and installation kit. To register, contact Danita Ogandaga at dogandaga@atlantaga.gov or 404-546-3217.
Chattahoochee Riverkeeper also provides rain barrel workshops for groups of 15 or more. For more information, see chattahoochee.org/our-work/education-training/rain-barrel-workshops/or call 404-352-9828.

Sally Bethea

Sally Bethea is the retired executive director of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper (chattahoochee.org), a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization whose mission is to protect and restore the drinking water supply for nearly four million people.