Drought per­sists in state, de­spite hur­ri­canes

The Covington News - - Local News -

BU­FORD, Ga. - The banks of Lake Lanier look about the same as last year: Closed boat ramps, parched soil and lonely is­lands peek­ing above the sur­face that should be cov­ered by a dozen feet of wa­ter.

Epic drought forced of­fi­cials across the South­east about a year ago to im­pose se­vere wa­ter re­stric­tions and warn that At­lanta, ground zero for the dry con­di­tions, could be just months from run­ning short of wa­ter.

While the drought has eased, its ten­drils still ex­tend far and wide across the re­gion. All it takes as re­minder of the drought’s grip is a look at the level of the lake, At­lanta’s main wa­ter sup­ply, which is more than 17 feet be­low nor­mal.

“I’ll tell you, we’re pay­ing at­ten­tion,” said Billy Cal­houn, a for­mer fish­ing guide who works along the shores of Lanier. “We’re not for­get­ting about the drought.”

The drought spread like a dark blot across the re­gion last year and forced state and lo­cal of­fi­cials to or­der the sweep­ing wa­ter re­stric­tions to save dwin­dling re­sources. Land­scap­ing com­pa­nies went un­der, cars stayed dirty and some towns wor­ried about run­ning dry.

The re­sponse from many cor­ners of the re­gion was swift.

Ge­or­gia banned vir­tu­ally all out­door wa­ter­ing through­out the north­ern part of the state. The le­gal bat­tle over fed­eral wa­ter rights among Ge­or­gia, Florida and Alabama in­ten­si­fied. And leg­is­la­tors in Ten­nessee and Ge­or­gia sparred over rights to the Ten­nessee River.

This time around, though, the rhetoric has been no­tice­ably sub­dued. Politi­cians are still urg­ing con­ser­va­tion and fore­cast­ers still warn the drought is months from end­ing, but the sense of ur­gency has van­ished.

Timely rain from trop­i­cal storms and hur­ri­canes have helped. They pro­duced badly needed rain across the re­gion, re­plen­ish­ing reser­voirs and streams. Some 64 per­cent of the re­gion is now locked in drought, com­pared to 78 per­cent last year, ac­cord­ing to fed­eral fore­cast­ers. Only 2 per­cent of the area is in the­worst cat­e­gory, com­pared to 24 per­cent last year.

Con­ser­va­tion ef­forts have helped usher in dou­ble-digit wa­ter sav­ings in some ar­eas. Wa­ter use in north Ge­or­gia, for in­stance, was down 24 per­cent in Au­gust com­pared with us­age the year be­fore.

“Peo­ple are get­ting the con­ser­va­tion mes­sage,” said Kevin Cham­bers of the Ge­or­gia En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Divi­sion.

Ge­or­gia also ben­e­fited from new guide­lines by the Army Corps of En­gi­neers, over­seer of fed­eral wa­ter re­sources. It al­lowed Lanier to keep more of its wa­ter. The Corps re­leased an av­er­age of 683 mil­lion gal­lons of wa­ter ev­ery day from Lanier in Septem­ber, com­pared to more than 1.1 bil­lion gal­lons a day the same month last year.

Still, some of those im­prove­ments may be short-lived. Corps spokes­woman Lisa Cogh­lanwarned that dry months could force the agency to release more wa­ter. “As we con­tinue to draw down lower basins,” she said, “we will have to tap back into Lanier.”

Fore­cast­ers, mean­while, have con­tin­ued to warn res­i­dents to brace for more dry weather. Alabama sent a dis­patch last month warn­ing that util­i­ties should con­tinue to plan in case the drought wors­ens. And South Carolina said some 155 wa­ter sys­tems have heeded its call for vol­un­tary wa­ter re­stric­tions.

“We’re not in the clear yet,” said South Carolina cli­ma­tol­o­gist Hope Mizzell, whose agency is eval­u­at­ing how to re­spond to dry wells and higher for­est fire risks.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.