Search This Blog

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Burns & McDonnell - Southeast Shares Georgia's Growing Water Need and Use in New Infographic

Burns & McDonnell - Southeast Shares Georgia's Growing Water Need and Use in New Infographic

By 2020 State Will Need Double the Amount of Water than It Uses Today

ATLANTA, July 15, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Burns & McDonnell - Southeast, an award-winning full-service engineering firm, introduced the infographic, "The Big Gulp: Georgia's Water Challenge," which illustrates the use of water in Georgia and the projected need in the state by the year 2020. In the starkest terms, in a very short time, Georgia will require twice as much water than it currently uses to meet the needs of the growing state. The four main users of water – energy, agriculture, industry and municipal – will require five billion gallons of water every day, even in the most conservative of estimations.


  1. This particular effort has produced a "mis-infographic," and Burns and McDonnell seems to have removed it from their site. In my view, it was a case of a really good concept gone really bad.

    In my over 40 years of working on water problems, I have always applauded efforts to improve public understanding of the water issues. But, in this case, the graphic paints a "sky is falling" picture by showing only grossly inaccurate demand numbers without taking supply into account. The basic demand numbers presented in the graphic are wildly different from numbers developed by Georgia EPD, the referenced source. Georgia's Water Challenge is managing supply to meet demand. It is simply impossible to assess the challenges facing Georgia without reference to supply.

    In fact, supply in Georgia is generally sufficient to meet most of the projected future demands. There are challenges and exceptions, the sky in NOT falling. That is a realistic interpretation of the conclusions of the Ga. EPD State Water Plan.

    In the State Water Plan, Ga. EPD projects increases in State-wide water use of about 8% by 2020. The graphic shows a 100% increase, which is impossible as a practical matter in the reasonably foreseeable future.

    Intended or not, the graphic implies that N. Georgia demands will grow 800% in the next 7 years. This is completely implausible. The State Water Plan projects an 8% increase in total withdrawal.

    The graphic states that N. Georgia demands would be enough to drain Lake Lanier in 8 months. This is a complete mis-representation of the real situation. N. Georgia has other sources of water, including all of the inflows to the Lake and below the Lake during a drought. Consider:
    • The drought 2006-2008 lasted for almost three years, and yet the largest use of Lanier conservation storage was roughly 60%,
    • A very large fraction of that usage was actually releases made solely to supplement flows at the Georgia/Florida state line, and
    • State projections show only a modest increase in demands to 2020.

    The graphic hides, in very small text, the fact that withdrawals for energy production return 90% to the stream. After return that water becomes available for other uses, including environmental enhancement. The graphic totally ignores the fact that most of the water from of industrial and municipal withdrawals is also returned. For example, in the Chattahoochee River Basin, the metro Atlanta area returned 70% of its withdrawal in the drought year of 2011. These returns substantially lessen the water supply challenges to the State. They also present significant water quality challenges, but the graphic completely ignores the extremely important linkage between water quality and quantity.

    The graphic highlights a particularly meaningless comparison - the State as a whole uses 50 times more water than the City of Savannah. Of course it does. The State is a whole lot bigger than the City of Savannah. 50 times is an eye catching number even if it is meaningless. As with the rest of the comparisons on the graphic, this provides no information useful in understanding water challenges.

    In sum, almost all the items on this graphic are either based on wildly inaccurate data, or present a meaningless and/or misleading comparison, or both.

    Regardless of the faults in this particular effort, the idea of producing an infographic is a very good one. My hope is that Burns and McDonnell will revise the graphic to present information that will help, rather than hinder, the citizens of Georgia in assessing the water challenges facing the State.

  2. Thank you Dan for pointing out the inaccuracies of this infographic. ARC has responded with some accurate facts about Georgia's water supply that can be found at: