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Pools to open this summer, despite drought

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Confused swimming pool owners and users alike in Henry and Clayton counties will be able to partake in the popular summer past time this year, officials say, despite north Georgia's Level IV Drought.

Some, who have wondered whether there would be restrictions on their pool-water use, will be allowed to use water for public and private, indoor and outdoor pools.

"The state is allowing people to fill their pools and to do hand watering ...," said Kevin Chambers, spokesman with the state's Environmental Protection Department.

The state loosened its water restrictions on pool use when legislators passed the Statewide Comprehensive Water Plan on Feb. 5, which exempts outdoor pools from some outdoor watering restrictions.

"We have come together to provide Georgians with a clear process for managing the future of our water resources," said the plan's House sponsor, Rep. Lynn Smith (R-Newnan). "By approving the Statewide Water Management plan, we are presenting Georgians with the ability to plan and conserve."

The state's pool-water allowance, however, is ultimately decided by local water authorities who are given the authority to enforce restrictions as needed. But local governments and water authorities in the 61-county Level IV Drought Response area will still be required to achieve Gov. Sonny Perdue's water use reduction goals.

It is a seeming contradiction, said Roderick Burch, finance director with the Henry County Water and Sewerage Authority.

The water authority has to comply with a state mandate from late 2007 to conserve at least 10 percent of its water from the previous year, or face possible fines. Henry just missed making the mandated 10 percent water reduction in December and January by about 1 percent each month.

According to Chambers, no fines have been or will be imposed on water authorities. So far, he said, the EPD has monitored water conservation and offered assistance to water authorities not meeting the mandate.

Henry could marginally improve on its water conservation and percentage of water reduction by restricting water use for public and private pools, Burch said.

"In spite of that, we're not going to enact any strong penalties," he said. "We would like for our customers to be able to use their pools. We're not enacting any restrictions that are more exclusive than what the state has in place."

Outdoor and indoor pools will be allowed to open. That includes pools in subdivisions, private residences, hotels, and recreational facilities.

All indoor or outdoor pools at Clayton County's recreational facilities will be filled, according to Lindsey Delong with the Clayton County Parks and Recreation Department.

"Right now, there are no restrictions," Delong said. "With them being new facilities, we're trying to let the residents know that they have these facilities available to them."

"We decided that, as of Feb. 20, our customers can fill their pools immediately," said Suzanne Brown, spokeswoman with the Clayton County Water Authority.

Brown says Clayton County's three main reservoirs are near capacity.

"We are in great shape," she said. "Our reservoirs are at 99 percent (full)."

Clayton's reservoirs produce an average of 25 million gallons of water a day during winter months and only slightly more during the summer months, at 30 million gallons a day.

Brown said that the drought has not had as dramatic an effect on Clayton as it has on other, more spacious counties.

And while recent rainy days have been encouraging signs to local water authorities, like Clayton and Henry counties, the drought still persists in north Georgia, said State Climatologist David Stooksbury.

"Despite recent rains, rainfall for the winter remains below normal at the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport," he said.

Officials are encouraging residents to continue to conserve water to help offset the water used to fill pools.

"When the call for water conservation went out, we did see water reduction and it was mostly voluntary," said Roderick Burch, of Henry's water authority. "People still want to do their part and conserve water.

"Make sure the pools are in good repair, so that you don't have leaks," advised Burch. "When you clean your filter in the pool - if you actually hand clean it, rather than back flush it, you save a lot of water. And don't over fill the pool. Make sure it's at the right level."