Drought over, but water still scarce

By Justin Reedy

Heavy rains have washed Georgia's drought away, but the state is pushing for year-round water conservation in case dry conditions return.

After years of drought conditions, metro Atlanta is well above normal for rainfall so far this year, according to Dean Hutsell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Peachtree City.

Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport has received more than 27 inches of rain since January, putting that weather station nearly 4 inches above normal for yearly rainfall. A weather station in Jonesboro, which is part of the University of Georgia's automated environmental monitoring network, has recorded nearly 30 inches of rain so far, putting it more than 5 inches above normal for the year.

The rest of the state has seen much the same thing over the last several months, according to state climatologist David Stooksbury, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Georgia.

"We're in good shape for north Georgia for this time of year," Stooksbury said. "Normally in May, the ground starts to dry out, but it's been so wet that hasn't happened."

The heavy rains this year have helped keep the Clayton County Water Authority's water reserves full, according to Guy Pihera, water production manager for the CCWA. But with as much rain as the metro area has received, he added, local residents aren't using as much water as they normally do during the summer.

Staying prepared

Jonesboro resident Richard Hosely hasn't bothered using a hose or a sprinkler on his lawn. Hosley was out Monday afternoon mowing his grass.

"I'm having to mow it a lot more often because there's been a lot more rain," said Hosley as he took a break from his yard work. "I've got to cut the grass constantly."

Despite the fact that the drought has gone away this year, the state hopes to make people more cognizant of water conservation. This month, the state Environmental Protection Division implemented voluntary outdoor water use restrictions to encourage Georgians to cut back on usage.

The move will help the state be prepared for future drought conditions, as well as to deal with the limited amount of water resources found in much of the state, including metro Atlanta.

"The severe drought that ended earlier this year reminded us that this state's water resources are limited," said Harold Reheis, director of the EPD. "It's important that all Georgians understand the need to conserve water even during periods of plentiful rainfall."

The suggested water restrictions call for people with odd-numbered street addresses to water only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, and for those with even-numbered addresses to water on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

The rules n which the state expects to become mandatory next year n are aimed at saving as much of the state's water as possible during non-drought periods, which officials say is important considering the state's ever-growing population.

"The thing to remember is that metro Atlanta has added 900,000 people in the last five years, but we haven't added another river," Stooksbury said.

Though the state hopes to curb water use and save the state's limited resources by having the voluntary restrictions in place, Hosley isn't changing any of his habits because of the rules. The only watering his lawn gets is when it rains, the Jonesboro man said, even if that means the grass not getting any water during dry periods.

"At one point in the drought, it was so dry you'd come out and mow and it wasn't anything but dust flying around," Hosley said.