ROME, Ga. — Two weeks after the Georgia Environmental Protection Division eased watering restrictions, its leaders warned public utility officials, elected officials and the public that the drought is far from over.
“We’re in what we call an exceptional drought,” said Becky Champion, an EPD assistant branch chief, explaining that this is the worst drought in 150 years. “We still are not anywhere close to being out of the drought.”
The EPD held a Drought Summit here Monday.
Georgia’s environmental leaders and scientists — including the state climatologist — urged businesses and consumers to conserve water voluntarily before the summer months, when they said it’s likely Georgia will dry up even more.
Climatologist David Stooksbury said evaporation this summer will strain the resource.
Rain now is not undoing the shortfall, he said. Typically, Georgia gets 1.1 to 1.2 inches of rain in February, he said, so getting .25 inches in a week is not necessarily cause to rejoice .
“We’ve just gotten so dry, we’ve forgotten what normal rain is,” Dr. Stooksbury said. “It’s not that we’ve been dry for a couple of weeks. We’ve been dry for a couple of years now.”
The cumulative effects of drought have dried up the soil, with North Georgia getting only 50 percent to 75 percent of its normal rainfall, and Dr. Champion said water conservation is the first line of defense during a shortage.
She said she did not want to comment on the possibility of tapping into the Tennessee River, much talked about among Georgia legislators in recent weeks.
She did say, though, “I don’t think that everybody does everything they can to conserve.”
Dr. Champion lauded industries, such as the carpet industry, which she said have been leaders in voluntary water conservation. “They have to pay for the water they use” so they’ve always been careful not to waste it, she said.
Landscaper Phil Fox said “indoor” industries aren’t making a real sacrifice, while outdoor watering bans have impacted his business disproportionately.
“We’re the only industry being asked to give up 100 percent of what we need,” said Mr. Fox, who recently had to lay off his stepson.
Dr. Champion said she was sympathetic, but she added, “We do know that outdoor watering is the largest single water user during the summer.”
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For more information, visit conservewatergeorgia.net