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Water authority wants drought restrictions eased

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Despite Georgia's prolonged drought, Clayton County has been able to keep it's reservoir levels filled nearly to capacity, according to Clayton County Water Authority (CCWA) officials. For that reason, next week, the CCWA will petition the state for relief from Level 4 water restrictions.

The drought restrictions, currently imposed on 55 counties in north Georgia, prohibit most forms of residential outdoor water use. Starting next week, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) will allow counties, which do not rely on Lake Lanier, or water directly from Buford Dam, to petition for more residential outdoor watering.

"We certainly believe that we are in good enough shape to be relieved from some of the restrictions," said Mike Thomas, CCWA general manager. "It's raining in Clayton County everyday because we are putting treated water back into our reservoirs."

Thomas said the county has been able to recycle 10 million gallons of highly-treated wastewater back into county reservoirs on a daily basis, keeping the reservoirs relatively full.

"I believe the lowest we got, at the worst of the drought has been 78 percent and we were right back up to 100 percent around February," said CCWA Public Information Officer Suzanne Brown. "We would like to see our residents be able to do more outdoor watering than is allowed under the Level 4 restrictions."

Brown said in February, the state modified the Level 4 restrictions to allow hand watering for 25 minutes a day, using a handle-release spray nozzle. The modifications also relieved some restrictions on filling backyard swimming pools.

"Right now, we will have customers call us and say that they don't understand why their neighbor can fill their pool and they can't wash their car," said Brown. "We are glad that the state is going to allow counties to petition ... because we are not all in the same shape."

Georgia EPD Spokesperson Kevin Chambers said the decision to let counties petition against the Level 4 water restrictions came after a meeting May 6 of the State Drought Response Committee.

"Because some organizations have taken extra precautions ... we are in pretty good shape," in regard to statewide water levels, said Chambers. "Based on those conditions, [certain counties] can petition us and we will consider it." He said the majority of north Georgia counties -- which rely on Lake Lanier and the Buford Dam for water -- will not be eligible.

The CCWA "has been proactive and prepared for these drought situations years ago," said Thomas. "We feel like we have done our homework and are well-prepared to maintain an adequate supply of water even during the traditionally dry months of summer. "We believe we should not be included in the Level 4 restrictions because our system is in great shape."

Water authorities will have until June 6 to present their petitions to the Georgia EPD.