Although local officials said they are pleased water restrictions have been eased in some North Georgia counties, leaders and conservationists face an underlying reality: Water is only going to become more scarce.
“I think clean water will become more of a luxury,” Doug Anderton, general manager of the Dade County Water Authority, said. “We are going to have to change our habits.”
Late last year, Gov. Sonny Perdue banned virtually all outdoor water use by residents in most of the state. The governor tapped Walker County, along with 60 other counties in North Georgia, to reduce water consumption by 10 percent. That was to the dismay of officials in the area who had access to plentiful supplies. For example, most of Walker County, including the city of Chickamauga, uses water from the relatively abundant Tennessee River Basin.
And, “If you reduce sale, you reduce revenue,” John Culpepper, Chickamauga utilities manager, said. He said the city counts on revenue from water service payments.
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In May, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division announced that level four drought response watering restrictions would remain for 55 counties, while limitations were eased for six counties — Muscogee, Harris, Spalding, Butts, Jasper and Greene — where drought conditions had improved.
At that time, Director of the Environmental Protection Division Carol Couch warned that summer’s hot and dry weather would bring a continued need for conservation, but that counties not reliant on dwindling Lake Lanier would be allowed to petition for modified restrictions.
Now — just as some Northwest Georgia counties, like Walker, have requested and received exemptions from the harshest restrictions — Georgia climatologist David Stooksbury has confirmed that the drought is deepening.
Dr. Couch said the assessment means she will re-evaluate some of the loosened restrictions in coming weeks.
Chickamauga was recently granted modified water restrictions after petitioning the state.
Outdoor water use is now allowed two days a week, from midnight to 10 a.m., Mr. Culpepper said. Those who live in a home with odd-numbered addresses may water on Thursdays and Sundays, while those with even numbers may water on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
“Basically, before this you couldn’t do any outdoor watering at all,” he said. “Then they changed it, and if you wanted to water your lawn ... it was one person with one hose and only water for 25 minutes.”
Now with the exemption, Mr. Culpepper said — as long as it is on the designated day and time — residents may water their lawn for as long as they want and with any device, such as a sprinkler. The ban on washing cars and other similar outdoor uses also has been lifted for Chickamauga, Mr. Culpepper said.
The exemption is valid through December, but Mr. Culpepper said the state has the right to modify the regulations if dry weather worsens across the state.
Mr. Anderton said Dade County has also sought the exemption, but he has not yet received approval. He said the restrictions are not fair to Dade residents.
“I think it unjustly penalizes our customers,” he said.
Like Mr. Culpepper, Mr. Anderton said restrictions limit revenues and could lead to higher water rates, which is like a double-edged sword for customers.
“What you always hear from your customer is, ‘I did everything you asked me to do. I’m using less water and now my rates increase,’” he said.
Regardless of exemptions, Walker County Coordinator David Ashburn said residents need to conserve water, “not just today, but forever.”
Jennette Gayer, policy advocate for Environment Georgia, a citizen-based, nonpartisan environmental advocacy group, agreed and said everyone needs to look at the bigger picture and “get over the idea that water is going to be a plentiful resource.”
The restrictions in North Georgia have worked — water use in North Georgia has dropped 28 percent from this time last year. But Dr. Couch said that progress could be reversed by poor management now.
“We were not prepared last year. We are prepared this year,” she told the Associated Press last week. “And we’ll only remain prepared if communities continue to conserve.”