Little sign of drought relief

Many areas of the lower Southeast entered mid-November having seen virtually no rainfall during the month, deepening a lingering drought in the region.

Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina have been especially dry since fall began.

“With temperatures below normal in the Southeast and little evaporation, the lack of rain has not had a major impact on the drought, but drought intensity did expand by about one category over the southern parts of Alabama and Georgia due to dropping stream flows,” according to the Nov. 13 report of the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Exceptional drought — the most severe measure of a drought — increased in western South Carolina while other drought designations expanded slightly in North Carolina.

“Nearly 60 percent of the streams in Georgia reported record lows for this time of year on Nov. 13,” states the U.S. Drought Monitor’s latest report. “More than one-half of the streams in South Carolina measured record lows, as did more than one-third of those in Alabama. In North Carolina, 283 water systems are under restrictions, affecting nearly 80 percent of the state population, the most since record-keeping began. Due to low stream flows, drought expanded into Virginia and also edged westward to Mississippi.”

As drought conditions show no sign of letting up, the states of Alabama, Georgia and Florida continue to haggle over water resources. In what is seen as a win for Georgia, the Army Corps of Engineers recently rolled out a plan that allows that state to keep more of the water in north Georgia’s Lake Lanier, a focal point in the continuing discussions over allocating water resources.

The Corps immediately reduced the flow of water from Lanier to Florida by about 5 percent following a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that federally protected mussels can live with less of the water from the lake.

“I am pleased that our federal partners agree that we must slow the releases from Georgia reservoirs to preserve precious water resources during this historic drought,” says Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue. “The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service decision is important for Georgia because it immediately allows less water to leave our shrinking reservoirs, and it allows for further ramp downs of releases if drought conditions persist.”

Georgia has always been willing to share its water supply with neighboring states, says Perdue. “While we would rather have seen further restrictions in the minimum flow required in the ACF, we understand there is a balance of interests needed here. What is most important to realize is that these emergency operations are designed as a first step. If we don’t receive ample winter rains, further operational changes will be necessary to protect vital drinking water supplies,” he says.

Georgia had complained that the federal government was sending millions of gallons of water downstream even as Lanier — the main source of water for much of metro Atlanta — was falling to record lows due to the epic drought gripping the region.

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley says he is very satisfied and very pleased with the most recent decision. “The revised flow regime should insure that no Alabama worker will be laid off due to the drought in the near term. This is enough water to protect operations at the Farley nuclear plant and other Alabama industries,” he says.

Florida officials, however, were less pleased with the plan, hinting that it could set off another round of legal challenges aimed at the Army Corps of Engineers, which manages regional water resources. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist says he is “disappointed” by the decision. “We will continue to focus on the needs of the people who depend on a healthy Apalachicola Bay,” he says.

The three governors are scheduled to meet this month to try and hammer out a long-term water deal.

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