Published on 03/21/07

Mild drought conditions develop across Georgia

By David Emory Stooksbury
University of Georgia

Athens, Ga -- Most of Georgia is now entering a mild drought. The state has been teetering between abnormally dry and mild drought since spring 2006.

An abnormally dry winter has led to very dry soils, record to near-record low stream flows, low reservoir and farm pond levels and dropping groundwater levels across most of Georgia.

Rainfall deficits since Jan. 1 include Atlanta at 5.77 inches, Tifton 5.62, Alma 4.96, Plains 4.88, Macon 4.75, Columbus 4.61, Brunswick 4.45, Augusta 3.60, Savannah 2.62 and Athens 2.14.

Soils dry

Soil moisture levels are lowest in northwest and southeast Georgia. The driest soils are north and west of a line from Columbus to Griffin to Cumming to Blue Ridge.

Only the lower Flint River Valley and lower Savannah River Valley have near normal soil moisture for late March.

Soils will continue to dry fast with little rain and temperatures in the 70s and 80s over the next several days. Warm-season plants are starting to grow. This will make soils lose moisture even faster.

By the end the week, soil moisture across the entire state is expected to be abnormally low for late March.

Streams low

Stream flows statewide are abnormally low for late March, too. The U.S. Geological Survey reports record low daily flows on the Flint River near Griffin, Alcovy above Covington and Middle Oconee near Athens.

Most rivers and streams north and west of a line from Brunswick to Dublin to Lincolnton are at or below the 10th percentile for the date. At the 10th percentile, we expect more water in the streams nine out of 10 years.

Most major lakes in the state are near the desired level for late March. West Point, Walter F. George, Clarks Hill, Allatoona and Carters are all at or slightly above the guidance level for late March. Lanier, Hartwell and Seminole are running 0.5 to 1.6 feet low for late March.

Farm ponds across much of the state are low.

The state had less than desirable groundwater recharge this winter. Groundwater levels are dropping statewide.

Watering restrictions

There is little evidence that widespread and consistent rainfall will come in the foreseeable future. So the next month is expected to remain warm and dry.

The entire state remains under the level-1 outdoor water-use schedule. Under the level-1 schedule, odd-number street addresses may use water outdoors during allowable hours on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Even-number addresses may use water outdoors during allowable hours on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.

Outdoor watering is allowed only from midnight to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to midnight. It's prohibited all day on Fridays. Local water authorities may further restrict outdoor watering.

(David Stooksbury is the state climatologist and a professor engineering and atmospheric sciences in the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

David Emory Stooksbury is associate professor of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at University of Georgia's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.