Lessons Learned from a Comparison of the 1998-2000 and 1986-1988 Period Droughts in Georgia
Johnson, Nolton G.
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The State of Georgia experienced one of the worst hydrologic droughts of record during the period from 1998 to 2000. Prior to this, the drought of 1986 to 1988 had been widely viewed as the worse drought of record in the northern portion of the state. This paper examines the data from surface water records, ground water records, rainfall data, reservoir elevations, minimum instream flows, and actual water supply experiences to compare the two periods of drought. Rainfall and population growth cannot be directly managed. In Georgia, the state cannot manage water rate schedules or land use, either, because these are traditionally managed at local government levels. The State of Georgia's role in drought has been one of regulatory and technical, and to some extent financial, assistance to the local goverments. In general, the State permits the local government water withdrawals with limits on the amount of water used in any given month or year, and with other conditions. The conditions require drought contingency plans and water conservation plans and other actions of each local government. The local governments then implement both the supply and demand management efforts required to minimize the impacts of lack of rainfall or actual growth rates exceeding population projections. Depending upon the region of the state, they either provided extra wells, water supply reservoir storage, or multiple connections either to alternate sources of water or to other public water systems for supply management. For demand management, the systems may follow their water conservation or drought contingency plans. Following the 1986-1988 drought, the State of Georgia implemented several large-scale actions toward minimizing the impacts of future droughts. Although not considered a statewide initiative, these actions were targeted to regions of the state that seemed most vulnerable to droughts. Some actions, such as demand management efforts aimed at water quality issues in southeast coastal Georgia, provided a dual benefit for minimizing drought impacts. The Flint River Drought Protection Act efforts were initiated for Southwest Georgia, as a result of issues identified during the ACT/ACF Comprehensive Study of the 1990's. In the Piedmont region of the state, the intended plan called for water supply storage and other infrastructure or supply management efforts such as interconnections with nearby public water systems. In the 1998 to 2000 drought, the state initiated mandatory outdoor watering restrictions for demand management. A fifteen county metro Atlanta area was placed on a twelve- hour alternating even and odd schedule, and the rest of the state was mandated a similar six- hour restriction. These efforts assisted several systems in managing peak water use during the June - August 2000 period. The State took other administrative actions in 1998-2000 to protect public health and safety and to keep water-using industry viable to the extent possible. As for the federal role, there were noticeable differences in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer's operations of the Federal reserviors for the two drought periods also. This paper evaluates the effectiveness of some of these efforts in minimizing drought impacts in the State of Georgia.