Drought lingers in Georgia

By Johnny Jackson


Drought conditions have continued across much of north Georgia, despite some late-summer, tropical systems that doused the region.

Late in August, Tropical Storm Fay brought beneficial rain to the state, but a dry September has led to the return of low stream flows, and worse drought conditions.

The regions now suffering extreme drought conditions are in the northeastern half of the state. Those conditions occur about once in 50 years. Even more rare, however, are the exceptional drought conditions farther north in the northwestern corner of South Carolina - now the center of the nation's worst drought conditions.

Severe drought persists in northwestern and central parts of the state, including in Atlanta, Columbus, Macon, and Rome. Southern parts of Georgia remain under a moderate or mild drought.

But the biggest concerns over the next several weeks will be stream flows and soil moisture, said state climatologist David Stooksbury.

With the exception of those originating in the extreme southern counties, most streams in Georgia are extremely low, he said. Most streams in the state's northern half are at, or near, record-low flows for this time of the year.

Lake Lanier is at a record low for this time of the year. In the Savannah River basin, Clarks Hill Reservoir only has 2.78 feet of usable pool remaining, Lake Russell 1.31 feet and Lake Hartwell 19.57 feet.

Lake Hartwell's water level is expected to drop significantly over the next several weeks, since the lake sits at the top of the basin and will help support downstream reservoirs.

Stooksbury said that because of the extremely low stream flows, many counties have had their drought-level classification changed to a more intense drought level.

The water supply in Henry County is still positive, according to officials. The county has the capability of producing 37 million gallons per day. And despite dry weather recently, Henry County Water and Sewerage Authority's two largest million-gallon reservoirs are near full pool. The county is currently in a Level IVc Drought, which includes modified drought restrictions.

The water authority expects to see a decline in water usage in the coming months. With 54,000 customers, the authority typically sees usage increase by about 40 percent during the summer.

In much of the rest of Georgia, farm ponds are showing the lack of rain. Beef and dairy producers are having to move cattle for drinking water purposes, or find alternative water sources.

"Low soil moisture in the fall can be good for harvesting some crops," Stooksbury said. "But not all farmers benefit from the dry conditions. The dry weather will likely prevent some from getting another cutting of hay. It will also inhibit the planting of small grains and over-seeding of pastures."

The probability for drought relief over the next two weeks is low, he added. Though October is within the tropical storm season, the likelihood of tropical weather impacting Georgia will diminish rapidly as the month progresses.

Updated drought information is available at www.georgiadrought.org, which includes information on how to deal with the drought.