Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Georgia drought on my mind

The American Southeast has been baking and shriveling through drought conditions not seen for at least a century. With much larger populations and more land devoted to agriculture and timber, the demands on water supplies have grown proportionately.

Now northern Georgia is facing what may someday be regarded as "classic drought adaptation." What Georgians do over the next year may provide a model of how to (or how not to) change habits, choices and perhaps a regional economy to deal with a radically different definition of "normal."

Today's New York Times story, "Drought-Stricken South Facing Tough Choices," describes " an emergency so serious that some cities are just months away from running out of water."

Officials in the central North Carolina town of Siler City estimate that without rain, they are 80 days from draining the Lower Rocky River Reservoir, which supplies water for the town’s 8,200 people.

In the Atlanta metropolitan area, which has more than four million people, worst-case analyses show that the city’s main source of water, Lake Lanier, could be drained dry in 90 to 121 days.

Typical of our culture of denial, many people are now asking how things could have gotten so bad with no warning or efforts to prepare for it. The Georgia state climatologist called drought "the Rodney Dangerfield of natural disasters." It doesn't get the respect and attention of hurricanes and floods until it reaches extreme conditions where radical conservation measures are demanded.

Local businesses are suffering, especially those that attract customers to what were once lakeside locations.
The lake keeps sinking further and further away from the Little River Bar and Grill, costing the owner a quarter of his customers. As a result, he was forced to layoff four employees on Monday -- and that may not be the end.

"We're trying to hold on to everybody we can," said Ridley. "But you can only pay payroll for so long and continue to operate. So I guess there will be more layoffs down the road."
The Chairman of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce is calling for state legislators to enact a new water plan, including creation of more reservoirs. Those won't solve the current problems, though. There are no wet periods in the winter forecast to offer relief.

Meanwhile, the University of Georgia has created a Drought Website to report on emergency conservation measures, the status of agriculture and condition like the rising number of mosquitos and the accompanying threat of West Nile disease.

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