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As drought conditions continue, Henry reservoirs near capacity

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Winter and early spring rains have helped, but north Georgia remains in severe-to-extreme drought as the region heads into peak water-use season this May and June.

Rainfall for 2008 is 4.33 inches below normal, according to state climatologist David Stooksbury. In the Southern Crescent, rainfall is about 13.98 inches to date, compared to 10.3 inches in the same period in 2007. Typical rainfall amounts average 18.31inches by this time of year.

"We're basically where we were at this time last year," he said.

Atlanta received only 2.85 inches of rain in January compared to the 5.03-inch, 30-year average, according to the National Weather Service.

Rainfall met the 30-year average in February at 4.68 inches for the month. Rainfall fell short of the 5.38-inch March average, with only 5.17 inches falling last month.

It is an early indication that extreme drought may continue in parts of north Georgia.

Another indication of drought, Stookbury said, is looking at river flows.

The Flint River, at Griffin on Monday, was running at 30 percent of normal flow.

Most north Georgia streams are at or near record low flows for late April. At many locations, only 1986 and 2007 stream flows were lower than they are now, he said.

North Georgia also did not receive enough rain to fully recharge soil moisture, groundwater, streams, or reservoirs.

Moisture conditions for the southern coastal plain along the Florida border are near normal for now, while the northern coastal plain is abnormally dry.

Since Oct. 1, north Georgia has received only about 75 percent of normal rainfall. From Oct. 1 through mid-April is considered Georgia's moisture recharge period, when the state typically gets more rain than the moisture it loses due to evaporation and plant use.

"We're in a situation where any hope of major improvement for the rest of the year is limited," Stooksbury said. Whether drought conditions worsen "will depend on whether we have an active tropical storm season."

Henry County is currently fairing well in what is categorized as a severe drought, while other counties just north of Henry, into the north Georgia mountains, are still suffering an extreme drought.

"We have more water now than we had last year," said Rodderick Burch, finance director for the Henry County Water and Sewerage Authority (HCWSA).

About 18 billion gallons of water are available to the water authority. "More water, by far, than we've ever had in Henry County," said Burch. "All of our reservoirs are within a foot of full pull."

Henry County's two largest reservoirs are currently near capacity - 1,400-acre Tussahaw Reservoir is only four inches below full pool, and the 1,200-acre Towaliga Reservoir is nine inches from full.

"We've had some significant rain events since January," Burch said. "If the rains were to stop - if it became drought conditions again, we still have enough water."

The 54,000-customer water authority, however, must still adhere to state-imposed water restrictions. The Henry authority barely missed meeting the state's mandate last winter for consumers and water authorities to reduce water consumption by 10 percent each month from the previous year's reported usage.

Burch said he believed the water authority has effectively conserved and reduced its water consumption by more than 10 percent, considering Henry County's growth over the past year. "We still have to abide by the state water restrictions," he said.

By law, Georgia's Environmental Protection Division (EPD) could impose fines of up to $100,000 a day for violators of the water restrictions.

In March, HCWSA filed a petition for an exemption with EPD. "We believe that some people are feeling quite a burden on this ... because of water conditions in spite of the fact that we have enough water," Burch said. "As far as water supply, we are better off than we were last year. Now, the reservoir is almost full."

Updated drought information is available at www.georgiadrought.org, which includes information on how to deal with the drought. Get updated weather information at www.georgiaweather.net.