State relaxes restrictions on watering
Local officials have yet to weigh in on changes

COVINGTON - Though the state is relaxing outdoor watering restrictions, the Newton County government has yet to announce what will happen locally.

Gov. Sonny Perdue announced last week that hand watering will be allowed for 25 minutes per day on an odd-even schedule between midnight and 10 a.m.

Odd-numbered addresses can water on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Even-numbered addresses can water Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.

Hand watering is defined as one person with one garden hose with a spray nozzle that automatically shuts off when it is released.

The governor also announced that a restriction on filling outdoor pools will be lifted from April through September for counties in the Level Four drought response area, including Newton.

There are an estimated 6,500 public pools and 92,000 private pools in the Level Four area, requiring seven million gallons of water per day, according to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

Perdue said allowing the pools to open will have a modest impact on water supply, and local utilities will still be required to meet his goal of 10 percent water use reduction.

"Citizens should not see this as a signal the drought is over," Perdue said. "The drought remains persistent and water conservation is our top priority."

Prohibiting pools from opening could result in public safety issues, such as collection of stagnant water, cracking or collapsing of pools and the threat of injury from people falling into empty pools, according to a press release issued by the governor's office.

Also effective April 1, newly installed landscapes can be watered up to three days a week from midnight to 10 a.m. for up to 10 weeks, based on the odd-even schedule.

Newly installed landscapes are defined as those that have been in place less than 30 days and were installed by a professionally certified or licensed landscaper, golf course contractor or sports turf landscaper.

However, watering of new landscapes is only allowed if the water user participates in a new outdoor water use registration program.

The program gives instructions on global water resources, Georgia's water resources, best landscape practices and proper watering techniques. Those who pass a test by at least 70 percent will register and print a certificate to display in prominent location on the property and sign a pledge stating they will reduce overall water usage by at least 10 percent.

Registration gets under way March 1 at www.urbanagcouncil.com.

Those without Internet should call their county extension agent.

Local governments are entitled to pass more stringent restrictions than those set at the state level.

The local Drought Response Team will meet this week to review the governor's revisions and establish local restrictions, Newton County Water Resources Manager Karl Kelley said.

The team last met on Feb. 6 to discuss progress so far in meeting the governor's 10 percent reduction goal.

Based on sales figures for January, local utilities have reduced wholesale purchases by 6.1 percent on a per capita basis from the winter average last year, Kelley said.

Factoring in growth in the customer base, the reduction is 10.1 percent.

Utilities are now allowed to remove lost and unaccounted for water and commercial and industrial usage from the report, so the numbers only represent residential usage.

The Drought Response Team includes water providers from the cities of Covington, Porterdale, Oxford, Mansfield and the town of Newborn, the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority, and the Jasper and Walton water and sewerage authorities.

Walton County usage is not reflected because the county is purchasing supplementary water from Newton that exceeds purchases from last year due to a loss of supply from other sources.

Lake Varner, the raw water supply for these water providers, has risen more than 7 feet from its lowest level, reached Nov. 23, and is now within 2 feet of full pool, Kelley said.

City Pond, the raw water supply for the Williams Street Treatment Plant, which provides the bulk of water to city of Covington residents, as well as to residents in the western part of the county, is at full pool.

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