Originally created 01/24/04

Tybee Island nears water limit



TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. - Tybee is running out of water.

Not the salty kind, of course. It has an ocean of that. But the city is getting perilously close to its allotted daily consumption of fresh water.

City officials have enacted several measures to curb Tybee's thirst. If those measures don't work, council member Paul Wolff warns that the city will have to start charging water wasters enough to hurt their wallets.

Tybee is allowed to pump a maximum daily average of 960,000 gallons of water from the Floridan aquifer. Lately its average has been hitting the 915,000 mark. And the city has 100 more condominiums already permitted but not yet built.

Overconsumption could cost the city, in the form of penalties from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. The EPD typically warns a city first, said Ade Oke, of the agency's water resources branch, but continual violations could result in fines that average $500 a day.

A new rate structure enacted by the previous city council means big guzzlers pay slightly more per gallon.

Residents will see that change when they receive their bills in April. Instead of a flat rate, they'll pay increasingly more per gallon for higher consumption.

The Chatham County-Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission encourages such a tiered structure. Other local governments, including Bloomingdale and Port Wentworth, already bill their customers this way.

Tybee is also encouraging residents to stop watering their lawns with drinking water and instead use nonpotable water from shallow wells.

Such wells cost more than $1,250 to drill. To offset that cost, Tybee will buy back an existing irrigation meter for $350 from residents who opt for the shallow irrigation well. Shallow well water is not metered and so is essentially free. The EPD allows such wells without a permit as long as they pump less than 100,000 gallons per day or 70 gallons per minute.