By Billy Corriher
Clayton County recorded its driest March in 56 years, according to the Georgia State Climatology Office, and if the area doesn't get sufficient rain soon, it could mean trouble this summer.
"We're not in a drought yet, but we're getting close," said David Stooksbury, Georgia's state climatologist.
Stooksbury said Georgia could still see more rainfall before summer hits, if tropical systems shift to the area.
The rain is sorely needed in Clayton County, where the Water Authority is reporting 7.89 inches of rainfall so far this calendar year, far less than the average of 14.64 inches.
The county's storage reserves remain close to 100 percent, but this spring, the reservoirs dropped below 100 percent earlier than ever before.
Terry Hicks, deputy manager of the water authority, said that even though reserves have dropped slightly, the county still has plenty of water in storage.
And Hicks said that water conservation efforts the county has instituted in the past few years are effective at reducing the harm inflicted by droughts.
"It seems that our customers have gotten into the habit of conserving," he said. "Our (water) usage hasn't peaked like it used to."
Hicks said that for the past few years, Clayton County has relied on state water usage restrictions, which now include voluntary restrictions on when residents can use water outdoors.
Under current restrictions, odd-numbered address can water on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Even-numbered addresses are allowed to water on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Jonesboro resident Mel Gantt said he has cut down on watering his lawn the past few years.
"I've only watered my lawn a couple of times this year," he said.
Stooksbury said that residents' lawns and gardens could be in trouble if Georgia doesn't see rain in the next four weeks.
"Our main concern is that the cool season was relatively dry," he said. "That's the time when we'd normally be storing water in our soil."
Gerald Woodall, owner of Ellenwood Lawn and Garden, said that because of the dry weather, planters should start preparing for summer.
Woodall said the most important thing to do during dry seasons is to install plants properly. He recommends digging a hole that's twice as wide as the container the plant came in.
To loosen the heavy clay soil, Woodall said planters should mix the dirt from the hole with compost mix, soil conditioner or gypsum.
Woodall said planters should also make sure they use enough mulch around their plants to conserve moisture.
When residents water their plants, Woodall recommends using soaker hoses, which supply water more directly to the area around the roots of the plants.
"Sprinklers are really best for large groups of plants and for watering lawns," he said.
Woodall said he tries to water plants individually whenever he can. And even though he is not required to conserve water at his business, Woodall said he tries to rein in his water use during dry spells.
"We have to be as diligent or more diligent than our homeowners have to be," he said.
Woodall said that using water wisely now could help when summer hits.
"That may reduce the need for conserving water down the road," he said.
Mary Elfner, water conservation coordinator for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said that after the dry winter and spring, the state's voluntary water restrictions on outdoor usage will become mandatory this summer.
Elfner said water usage increases between 30 and 50 percent across the state during the summer.
And when demand goes up during droughts, Elfner said it can lead to conflict when resources for Georgia and neighboring states are scarce.
"People tend to get possessive of their water when there's a drought," she said. "And there's an effect downstream when you use more water upstream."
Elfner said Georgia is now negotiating allocation formulas with its neighboring states to ensure fair distribution of water resources.
For updates on the county's water levels and restrictions, visit the Clayton County Water Authority's Web page:
For information on Georgia's water levels and restrictions, visit the University of Georgia's drought information Web page:
For information on the Georgia Department of Natural Resource's Water Conservation Program:
For tips from the federal Environmental Protection Agency on conserving water: