County may ease water restrictions

CONYERS - Rockdale County is one step closer to moving away from requirements to adhere to sweeping regulations aimed at conserving water in Lake Lanier.

Carol Couch, Georgia's top environmental official, called off an order Tuesday that required utilities in 61 north Georgia counties to reduce water use by 10 percent.

The policy shift will also allow some north Georgia counties that do not rely on Lake Lanier for their water to ask the state for looser rules.

That is what Rockdale County has been asking for since earlier this year. Board of Commissioners Chairman Roy Middlebrooks last requested a change in the county's status in a letter to the Environmental Protection Division on April 22, in which he requested Rockdale be reclassified from a Level 4 drought status, the most severe, to a Level 2.

Middlebrooks has said in the past that it seemed unfair to impose the same water restrictions on Rockdale County residents, who get their water from the Ocmulgee River basin, as those in the rest of the Atlanta area that depend on the Chattahoochee River basin for water.

In his letter to the EPD, Middlebrooks explained that Rockdale County has an abundance of water since Randy Poynter Lake, the county's water reservoir, is at full pool and inflow from Big Hayes Creek is normal for this time of year.

The 10 percent mandatory reduction in water consumption placed by Gov. Sonny Perdue has placed Rockdale County in a difficult position, Middlebrooks said. Rockdale Water Resources is facing the challenge of needing to replace or upgrade its distribution system, but is unable to because of the governor's restrictions to generate revenue from selling water.

"The Level 4 drought requirements, as well as being mandated to reduce water production by 10 percent, are counterproductive to our ability to enhance the system," Middlebrooks wrote to Linda MacGregor, chief of the EPD's watershed protection branch.

Rockdale County spokeswoman Julie Mills greeted the policy change as good news for county residents, though no changes have been made in the current outdoor water regulations that were revised in February. In September, all outdoor watering in north Georgia was banned.

Mills said the county has always sought to match the state's minimum water requirements.

Residents can hand water outdoor landscaping with a single garden hose for 25 minutes a day between midnight and 10 a.m. on designated days. Restrictions on watering new landscaping and filling outdoor swimming pools were also eased.

Middlebrooks said he wants to eventually get Rockdale County out of the Metropolitan Georgia Water Planning District and into a water planning region that would include Newton County and other communities within the Ocmulgee River basin.

The statewide water management plan passed by the General Assembly this year will create regional water planning districts across the state to help communities coordinate water management more efficiently.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.