DALTON, Ga. — State officials eased water use restrictions across much of Georgia last week.
But in Whitfield County, Dalton Utilities still must enforce strict rules such as the curbs on outdoor watering to cope with the drought that has gripped the area since March 2006.
Lori McDaniel, a spokeswoman for the utility, said the more frequent rains here this year haven’t made up for the huge rainfall deficit.
“The drought issue remains pretty much the same,” she said.
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division last week relaxed some water restrictions, mainly for southern counties that had relatively decent winter rainfall.
Gov. Sonny Perdue’s earlier call for local water authorities in 61 North Georgia counties to reduce usage by 10 percent also has been allowed to expire.
Still, Environmental Protection Division Director Carol Couch warned in a statement, “Citizens should not be fooled into thinking the drought is over.”
In fact, strict, Level 4 drought limits on outdoor watering remain in effect for 55 counties — including Whitfield County.
Pam Knox, the assistant state climatologist, said Northwest Georgia will likely suffer from the effects of drought for years.
The Conasauga River, the county’s main water source, might have had a normal flow this week, Ms. Knox said, “But remember, we had rain recently.”
Give the river some time, and it will recede to below-average levels for this time of year, she said.
LEVEL 4 WATERING RULES
• Hand watering will be allowed for 25 minutes a day on an odd/even schedule between midnight and 10 a.m. Odd numbered addresses water on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Even numbered addressed water on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.
• New landscape plantings can be watered up to three days a week between 10 a.m. and midnight.
• Anyone wishing to water a new landscape must first register with the Outdoor Water Use Registration Program at www.urbanagcouncil.com
• A registration certificate and plant purchase receipts are required to verify watering status for local law enforcement.
Source: Dalton Utilities
ON THE NET
S.B. 342: www.legis.state.ga.us
But what happens if rainfall averages pick up to normal levels of about an inch a week?
“Regular rainfall only keeps us from getting worse,” Ms. Knox said. “It doesn’t really improve the situation ... Normal rainfall is enough to keep things going.”
Georgia is in the midst of a long-term hydrological drought, Ms. Knox said, which can last years like the last big drought here that endured from 1998 to 2002. But many residents think a few inches of rain can replenish Georgia.
“Every time it rains,” Ms. Knox said wryly, “somebody calls to ask if the drought is over.”
The state government is working to keep conservation on Georgia’s mind. On Tuesday, Gov. Sonny Perdue signed the Water Conservation and Drought Relief Act of 2008, adding water-saving devices to the items that will be for sale without a sales tax levy during the state’s annual sales tax holiday on Oct. 2-5 this year.
“During this time of drought,” Gov. Perdue said, in a prepared statement, “we have all seen the importance of working to increase our water supply to avoid future water shortages.”
Also Tuesday, from a spot on the shore of Lake Lanier that is still 13 feet below normal water level for this time of year, Gov. Perdue signed legislation designed to speed the construction of reservoirs in Georgia to store more water for the needs of the growing population.
The law brings state agencies together to streamline the reservoir approval process, and establishes the Georgia Reservoir Fund to allocate water and infrastructure funds.
Gov. Perdue and the Legislature have already set aside $70 million in grants and loans for the fund, and local governments can apply for help with water projects.
Locally, the Whitfield County office of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension teaches drought-planting workshops.
Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent Brenda Jackson — who teaches those workshops — has been working this week with 4-H youth to lay out a drought-resistant garden.
The garden will be both a project for the youth and an educational display, with drought-resistant flowers like marigolds, Mexican heather and knockout roses surviving solely off water from the sky or a nearby rain barrel.
One gardener, Kristian Kriner, 14, knows a little rain won’t make the drought disappear.
“When it rains, it gets like really hot. Then, the water just evaporates,” said Kristian, who’s going to skip running through sprinklers this summer.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.