Published on 02/05/02

Helpful Rain Not Enough to End Long Drought

Drought continues to grip most of Georgia. And time is running out for rains to reverse its effects before the heat of summer begins sucking what moisture is left from the state's soil, says a University of Georgia expert.

Around mid-April, even with normal rainfall, the state will begin to lose moisture from its soil, said David Stooksbury, state climatologist and professor with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Limited Time

"We have eight more weeks to get the groundwater, soils, streams and reservoir levels recharged," Stooksbury said, "or we're going to be hurting this summer."

As far as the number of days of rainfall, February is one of the wetter months. Depending on the region, the state normally gets 4 to 8 inches of rain in February. So far, there's a good chance that rain will come this month.

"We may pick up some pretty good rain over the next couple of days for most of the state," Stooksbury said.

But it's going to take several months of above-normal rainfall to push Georgia out of the current drought, he said. And time is running out to end the drought before summer.

Slow Flow

A look at stream flows shows what the drought is doing to the state.

Spring Creek in southwest Georgia is flowing at about 28 cubic feet per second (cfs). Its previous record low was 67 cfs. The Alapaha River should flow at about 1,240 cfs this time of year. It's flowing now at 95 cfs.

In southeast Georgia, the Satilla River is flowing at 40 cfs. Its previous record low was 65 cfs, and its median flow should be 1,010 cfs at this time of year. And the Altamaha River, flowing now at 5,870 cfs, should be flowing at around 20,400 cfs.

Most of Georgia is in severe to moderate drought. The only part of the state where stream flows are adequate is in the northwest corner.

Groundwater levels are still extremely low, Stooksbury said. Models show the soil moisture in the southern Piedmont and northern Coastal Plain would be higher in at least 95 out of 100 years.

Little Promise

And the extended outlook for Georgia isn't promising. "There will probably be below-average rainfall and above-average temperatures," Stooksbury said.

There's a good possibility that if drought conditions don't improve before March 1 in the lower Flint River Valley, the Flint River Drought Protection Act will be enacted.

The purpose of the act is to maintain adequate water flows in the Flint River basin in southwest Georgia during times of drought. This can partially be achieved by reducing the number of acres farmers irrigate within the basin during drought years.

Farmers eligible to participate in the drought act are reimbursed for not using irrigation on part of their land for the entire calendar year.

"The declaration of drought in the Flint River is a policy type of decision," Stooksbury said. "Even if a drought is not declared, it doesn't mean south Georgia is not experiencing drought conditions. It just means the criteria for that policy haven't been met."

Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.