ATLANTA — Gov. Sonny Perdue signed Georgia’s first water management plan into law Wednesday, and, almost in the same breath, eased some outdoor water-use restrictions.
Strict outdoor watering rules have been in place since last summer for residents in 61 North Georgia counties, where the state’s historic drought has hit hardest.
Now residents are allowed to hand-water lawns on certain dates and times, water newly installed landscaping and operate outdoor pools.
“Georgians have done their part,” Gov. Perdue said.
But the drought is persistent and conservation is the top priority, Gov. Perdue said, adding the counties still are required to reduce consumption by 10 percent from the same month a year earlier.
The outdoor pool exemption addressed concerns of the swimming pool industry and parents who depend on them as summer recreation for children, Gov. Perdue said. Also, he said maintaining pools with proper, circulated water levels is a matter of public health.
“It’s necessary and good for health and good for safety,” Gov. Perdue said. “So, swim, kids, swim.”
Fort Oglethorpe officials will be happy.
The city is building a $850,000 pool that is expected to be finished sometime next month, but officials were not sure they would be able to fill it under the rules, even though the city is a Tennessee-American Water Co. customer.
Operating about 6,500 public and 92,000 private pools in North Georgia will increase water usage by an estimated 7 million gallons a day in a region that uses more than 800 million gallons a day, said Carol Couch, director of Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division.
The loosening of outdoor watering restrictions could cause consumption to rise by 80 million gallons a day, she said.
“We try to find a balance between the public interest and economic needs,” Dr. Couch told members of the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee on Wednesday.
In the briefing, she said rainfall in Georgia is expected to be below normal over next three to six months and “the drought can worsen.”
Rep. Barbara Massey Reece, D-Menlo, said the restrictions have hurt the “green industries” in North Georgia and some relaxation was needed.
“If this is handled carefully, we won’t make any drastic impact on the water supply,” she said.
Local governments still can impose tougher water restrictions than the state’s, Gov. Perdue said.
As the governor signed the water management plan, he applauded Dr. Couch for the inclusive process and the legislature’s quick passage of the plan this session.
The plan creates 11 regional water councils to assess water resources and to recommend how to manage and conserve them, which Gov. Perdue said will help Georgia in the decades-old wrangling over water resources with bordering states.
He again asked the General Assembly to approve full funding of the plan, estimated at more than $36 million. Gov. Perdue said he has identified federal grants and existing state funds for the first $11 million in fiscal year 2009.
Legislators said they expect to begin soon making nominations for the 25-person regional water councils, whose members will be appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House.
n Hand watering is allowed 25 minutes per day on an odd-even schedule between midnight and 10 a.m. Odd-numbered addresses can water on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Even-numbered addresses can water Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.
n New professionally installed landscaping can be watered up to three days a week from midnight to 10 a.m. for a period of 10 weeks based on the odd-even schedule.
n To water new landscaping, homeowners must register with the Outdoor Water Use Registration Program, hosted on the Urban Agricultural Council Web site at www.urbanagcouncil.com.
Source: Governor’s Office