The drought in Georgia has gotten bad enough that the state is now imposing water use restrictions in 52 counties, including all of metro Atlanta.
Non-commercial car washing and pressure washing, ornamental fountains, and hosing down streets and sidewalks are all prohibited, and outdoor watering is restricted to two days a week in the 52 counties now under a “Level 2” drought response. In Atlanta, restaurants won't bring glasses of water to the table unless patrons ask for it.
“Unfortunately over the last eight weeks, conditions have rapidly deteriorated. We've seen lack of rainfall and persistent heat,” said Georgia Environmental Protection Division Director Richard Dunn. “Stream flows are continuing to drop. Our reservoir levels are declining. And when you combine those conditions with demand that remains at or near summer levels, our supplies are beginning to feel some stress.”
The state declared a “Level 1” response in another 58 counties, which calls for letting people know there is a drought, but no restrictions. You can see the map of the state's drought response below.
“During this prolonged period of severe drought in Georgia, we are bolstering the state’s drought response in more than 100 counties,” Gov. Nathan Deal said in a statement. “We urge these communities to act accordingly, use good judgment and avoid outdoor burning and watering while we continue to work with the EPD and pray for rain across the state.”
Outdoor watering is always limited in Georgia, whether there’s a drought or not, to between 4 p.m. and 10 a.m. Now, it is only allowed two days a week; on Wednesdays and Saturdays for even-numbered addresses, and Thursdays and Sundays for odd-numbered addresses.
Katherine Zitsch, the director of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District said it’d be better to water even less frequently, if possible.
“Since it's the fall and winter months, outdoor plants need less water,” she said. “So we need to look for things like curling and wilting and graying foliage and water then, and not just water because we can.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projects that the drought will continue at least through early 2017.
“We've had a very dry summer and an even worse fall, and NOAA's predicting the rainfall not to improve,” said Zitsch. “So certainly it's looking like 2017 is going to be another drought year. The big question is, is it just 2017 or is it also 2018?”
Most of Atlanta’s water comes from the Chattahoochee River after it flows out of Lake Lanier. Lanier has a relatively small watershed for a reservoir of its size, so it can take more than a year to refill once it does start raining again.
The lake level is dropping by about a foot every two weeks, said Chattahoochee Riverkeeper Jason Ulseth.
“We were long overdue in getting meaningful watering restrictions put into place to help protect our water supplies,” said Ulseth. “The lake levels are going to continue to drop, so it is extremely important that everybody use water as wisely as they possibly can.”
The drought has been creeping across Georgia since early summer. It’s been a case of haves and have nots in the state, where some counties have been drenched by tropical storms, while others have had very little rain.
Farmers have lost row crops and have come up short on hay for livestock. Dozens of Georgia counties are in a drought disaster declared by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The extreme drought in the region has also opened the path for the wildfires that have burned tens of thousands of acres in Georgia and neighboring states.
Flows into Lake Lanier and other reservoirs are at or near-record lows, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is releasing a minimum amount of water to flow down the Chattahoochee River.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, more than 8 million Georgians live in an area affected by drought.