By Diane Wagner
Outdoor watering restrictions will become permanent statewide, under a drought management plan approved by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources this week.
But it will take some time.
"We don't have any restrictions now, but we will support any decision the state makes," said Wade Brannan, general manager of the Clayton County Water Authority. "They're looking at it from a bigger standpoint, at Alabama, Florida and regional needs, and that's the way it should be looked at."
The Henry County Water and Sewerage Authority has been encouraging voluntary watering restrictions since the state lifted mandatory restrictions in January.
All that will be needed, according to Chris Wood of the authority's public relations firm Jim Wood & Associates, is to adjust the standard notice that goes out with the bills.
"We saw this coming and we realized the need to continue conservation, especially in Henry County because of the growth," Wood said. "We've been educating the public about conservation and we didn't want to confuse things with a mixed message."
Kevin Chambers, spokesman for the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, said an effective date has not yet been set but "it would make sense to have something in place before the summer watering season starts."
State EPD officials are at work hammering out a plan spelling out how and when the restrictions will be implemented, he said.
"The drought management plan is the work of more than 80 stakeholders from different backgrounds," Chambers said. "Part of that plan includes pre-drought restrictions on outdoor water use, based on conservation as opposed to an emergency need."
Water is a finite resource and, as the population of the Atlanta area continues to grow, people to the south are growing concerned.
Murray Campbell's father lost everything he had in the 1954 drought, but the Mitchell County farmer managed to build his family's holdings back up to 1,200 acres.
Now Campbell is struggling to maintain his farm in the face of a water shortage that stems from upstream reservoirs and dams as much as from a lack of rain.
"I have two sons in college, and they're never coming back to southwest Georgia," Campbell said. "This is a land-based economy here. Our livelihood is based on water."
In 2002, the Association County Commissioners of Georgia helped sponsor a tour for upstream water providers that spotlighted rural irrigation issues.
This week the focus was reversed, with water officials from places like Tifton and Perry visiting facilities in Cobb, Gwinnett and Clayton counties.
"We took urban water users to South Georgia to see how the farmers are making do," ACCG Associate Legislative Director Glenn Dowling said. "Now we want the rural guys to see what the challenges are on the water demand in the big cities."
Participants viewed plants in Cobb and Gwinnett on Tuesday, and wound up at Clayton County's Blalock Reservoir facility for a dinner at which EPD Director Harold Reheis was the keynote speaker.
The 40 or so participants toured Clayton's facilities on Wednesday morning before heading back south at noon.
"I think they all left feeling a little more at ease regarding how we manage water here," Brannan said. "We tried to stress that we reuse water as much as we can, that we reclaim it with land application systems to recharge our reservoirs, so they know we aren't just drawing it all out of the Flint River."
Brannan said a relatively new reclamation method of applying purified sewage to constructed wetlands is giving the authority four or five times the treatment capability of the past.
"They used to call it wastewater, but there's no such thing anymore," he said. "We don't want to waste anything because there's just the same amount of water we've always had."
Constructed wetlands are built to resemble rice paddies or marsh grass, Brannan said. The plants take out the nutrients left after the water is specially treated, and hold water formerly lost to evaporation when it was sprayed on fields.