Local officials to discuss plan for water use

COVINGTON - Local officials are working to come up with a plan to meet a recent mandate by Gov. Sonny Perdue that north Georgia businesses and utilities cut water usage by 10 percent.

But at the same time, with a total outdoor watering ban in place and water consumption down, they're wondering what more can be done.

Perdue's order was handed down Tuesday with a compliance deadline of Nov. 1.

Perdue's order applies to the 61 north Georgia counties that were declared at Level 4 drought in September. The order leaves it up to each system to decide how to restrict water and exempts agricultural users.

Perdue called it the first step to reducing water usage during the drought.

As the wholesale supplier of water to the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority and the county's five municipalities, Newton County officials are organizing a meeting with those customers next week to discuss possible solutions, according to Karl Kelley, the county's water resources director.

"We'll all work together to meet the governor's demands," Kelley said.

Mike Hopkins, executive director of the Water and Sewerage Authority, said it's not clear whether current conservation efforts, which have resulted in lower water consumption and production, will count toward the 10 percent mandate.

Hopkins said the order presents a challenge because it comes without any suggested solutions.

"We've got to have a little bit of time to take stock of where we're at as far as what we're doing to see if those things have been effective. What works for DeKalb County might not work for Newton," Hopkins said.

The Authority has already sent out a letter notifying customers of the Level 4 watering ban and is advising against the use of irrigation meters, he said.

Repairing even the smallest of leaks has become "more than a top priority," Hopkins said, adding that crews are working "as hard as we can go."

Covington City Manager Steve Horton said that, "Compared to the other counties, Newton County is considerably better off from a water standpoint ... but that doesn't mean we don't have to worry."

In fact, the real concern is stocking up on water to get through next summer, according to Hopkins.

"What water you save now will help get us through next summer by allowing the reservoirs to fill," he said.

Almost one-third of the Southeast is experiencing an "exceptional drought," the worst drought category. The Atlanta area, with a population of 5 million, is in the center of the affected region, which includes most of Tennessee, Alabama and the northern half of Georgia, as well as parts of North and South Carolina, Virginia and Kentucky.

With a dry winter in the forecast and less than 80 days of stored water left in Lake Lanier, the north Georgia reservoir that supplies water to about 3 million residents, the state has already ordered restrictions, and Perdue warned more could be on the way.

"I encourage all Georgians to make their dry lawns and dirty cars a badge of honor," Perdue said. "By making individual conservation efforts, along with reasonable solutions from our federal government, we can collectively help to ensure that our water supply is sufficient."

Virtually all outdoor watering was banned throughout the northern part of the state in September, and Perdue declared a disaster in more than half of Georgia's 159 counties.

The state has also appealed to the federal government for help.

The governor asked President Bush on Saturday to order less water be released from federal reservoirs in Georgia and to declare the region a federal disaster area, a move that was seconded on Tuesday by the Georgia delegation in Washington.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.