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By Eric Stirgus June 1, 2011

Gwinnett water use down, but by how much?

Charlotte Nash, the new head of Gwinnett County government, did some bragging about her county in a recent speech.

One of the claims was about water, specifically how much less H2O Gwinnett homeowners used in recent years.

"Annual water usage in 2010 was actually down more than 18 percent from usage in 2006," Nash, chairwoman of the county’s Board of Commissioners, said in her May 18 State of the County address.

Perhaps the statistic was true, considering that county and state officials have pleaded with Georgians to use less water after state environmental protection officials announced a ban on most types of outdoor watering in September 2007. The ban was lifted in June 2009. Currently, political leaders in Georgia, Alabama and Florida are battling over a water-sharing agreement.

A county spokeswoman suggested Gwinnett residents and business owners are being more conscious about conserving water.

"It would seem the water conservation trend that started during the extreme drought continues," Gwinnett spokeswoman Heather Sawyer told us in an email to explain why water use has declined in Georgia’s second-highest-populated county.

Sawyer also suggested Gwinnett’s toilet rebate program may be another factor in conserving water. The program gives homeowners a $50 to $100 discount for installing toilets that use less water when flushed.

PolitiFact Georgia was still curious about Nash’s numbers. The county’s population grew, according to U.S. census figures, from 588,450 residents in 2000 to more than 805,000 in 2010, a 37 percent increase. Nash’s statement claimed the county’s water use dropped by 18 percent in four years, yet the county’s population increased by 37 percent over the past 10 years.

Gwinnett officials provided us a spreadsheet with annual water use data dating to 1999. The average daily use for most years between 1999 and 2007 was nearly 84 million gallons a day. In 2007, the year the drought restrictions took effect, the average daily use was 86.4 million gallons a day. In 2008, the average daily use in Gwinnett dropped to just below 72 million gallons a day. The one-year decline was nearly 17 percent.

That one-year decline was actually less than the drop in the region, state officials told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2008. They said water use in North Georgia dropped by 24 percent from August 2007 to August 2008.

We felt better about believing the drop in water use in Gwinnett between 2007 and 2008. So, let’s take a closer look at Nash’s claim of an 18 percent decline from 2006 to 2010.

Sawyer alerted us to an error in the math work. Staffers used the difference between the 2006 and 2009 totals to come up with the 18 percent reduction. Gwinnett officials say the average daily use was 87.4 million gallons in 2006 and 71.3 million gallons a day in 2009. In 2010, the average daily use was 74.7 million gallons a day. That is a 14.3 percent decline.

Since the 14 percent reduction is pretty close to 18 percent, we don’t consider the error to be that egregious. We rate Nash’s claim as Mostly True.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

State of the County address, May 18, 2011

Emails from Gwinnett County spokeswoman Heather Sawyer, May 23 and 25, 2011

Gwinnett County toilet rebate program

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Drought persists, but not panic," Oct. 3, 2008

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