Thirsting for April showers

By Michael Davis

Max Breckenridge isn't too concerned about the state's mild drought. A McDonough Garden Club member and avid horticulturist, he says he and his wife have gardened all of their lives but have found ways to conserve water and still maintain a healthy garden.

"Water is something we all take for granted until we're without it," he said

He said barely watering his flowers only serves to make them stronger. "We use as little water as possible. If a plant is a little bit under stress, the roots are going to do better," he said.

If a drought persists, heavy watering may not be an option.

State climate officials say the state has slipped back into a "mild" drought, one year after the end of a five-year drought period.

"March was very dry across the state," said assistant state climatologist Pam Knox. "And April hasn't been much better."

From October 2003 to now the state has been in a rainfall deficit with the Atlanta area receiving a total of 9.28 inches of rain from January through March – about seven inches below the average.

During March, the driest month so far this year, rainfall totaled 1.04 inches.

Knox said that winter rainfall is vital to keeping the soil wet and carrying the state through the summer but the winter was drier than normal.

"We really depend on winter to recharge the soil moisture," she said.

If the state remains in a drought, the state Environmental Protection Division could once again enforce watering restrictions across the state.

According to a statement this week by the National Weather Service in Peachtree City, "There is an increased chance of mild to moderate drought conditions developing across larger parts of Georgia in the coming weeks."

In fast-growing Henry County, water and sewer officials say, though they're in good shape now, they have to be a little more watchful.

In about two years, the Tussahaw Reservoir construction is expected to be finished and the reservoir will come online. Officials say the 1,466-acre reservoir should supply the county for decades in the future, and treat about 13 million gallons a day for consumption but construction was delayed for over two years because of permit appeals.

"By 2006 we should be in pretty darn good shape, but we should be done today," said Lindy Farmer, general manager of the Henry County Water and Sewerage Authority.

However, Clayton's three water production facilities aren't as strapped. "All of our reservoirs are full," said Wade Brannan, general manager of the Clayton County Water Authority. He said that in fact, over the past several years, demand has probably reduced in part to the public awareness of conservation needs during the five-year drought. "I think people have really changed their lifestyle – and are more discretionary in their water use," he said.

He is concerned however, that the state may soon impose watering restrictions, "if it continues the way it's going," he said.

Clayton's water production facilities can supply a combined total of 42 million gallons a day to residents while Henry's one production plant, the Towaliga, can provide up to 24 million.

Knox said however, that a mild drought isn't all bad. "My favorite definition of drought is too many nice days in a row," she said.

But still, the outlook for May isn't much better. "Certainly for the next few weeks or so, there's not much chance of getting significant rainfall," she said. "I have not seen any signs so far that this pattern is about to break down."

She said that even if rains do begin to come regularly, it won't have much impact on ground moisture levels. "We do know from past experience that if you start the growing season with dry conditions, you're probably not going to suddenly develop nice, moist soils. Almost everything that comes during the summer, because of high temperatures, evaporates or runs off."