Published on 05/19/00

UGA Weather Stations May Help Avert Future 'Water Wars'

Two new University of Georgia weather stations are providing Georgia the ammunition it needs to avert future water wars with neighboring states.

The UGA weather stations are at Sneads Landing and Cummings Access on Lake Seminole, on the Georgia-Florida line. They were installed at the request of the U.S. Geological Survey, a federal agency that works with states and cities on hydrological studies.

Much Needed Water Data

The new stations are funded by the USGS and the Georgia Geologic Survey, a unit of the Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. They're part of a cooperative study to prepare near-real-time water budgets for the lake.

Florida and Alabama are suing Georgia over water issues involving the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint rivers, which feed Lake Seminole. The court battles, commonly called the tri-state water wars, are nearing an end. But the dispute has shown the need for better data.

"The information we can get from these weather stations would have been very useful in these tri-state negotiations if we'd had it in time," said Lynn Torak, a USGS hydrologist.

The UGA weather network is formally known as the Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Network. It has more than 40 stations across the state. The UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences runs the network.

Each weather station collects data on air temperature, relative humidity, solar radiation, wind speed, wind direction, soil temperature, rainfall and barometric pressure.

At the new Lake Seminole sites, the USGS is interested in gathering water-related data.

"We need to be able to get a handle on inflows and outflows to the lake," Torak said. "These include precipitation, evaporation, groundwater inflows and outflows and surface-water inflows and outflows."

Torak said the data will be important in the state's study of Lake Seminole's effects on the region's water resources.

How Much Water is There?

"Georgia needs to know if there has been a significant change in the amount of water available in the region, both surface and groundwater, since the lake has been in place," he said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began building the 36,000-acre lake in the early 1950s. It was completed in 1957.

"The lake project involved clear-cutting cypress trees, of which a large number remain in the lake," Torak said. "The lake was built for recreation, hydropower production for the City of Chattahoochee, Fla., and for navigational purposes."

The USGS needs to see, too, how lake water interacts with the groundwater system.

"Georgia is interested in knowing if water is leaking out of the lake, entering the Upper Floridan Aquifer and flowing across the state line into Florida," Torak said.

"We now know that ground water levels are fairly constant around the lake," he said. "Basically, what flows into the lake from precipitation and rivers and creeks upstream flows out down the Apalachicola River, minus lake evaporation and leakage."

Study Completed by 2001

Torak said the study will be completed by 2001. But the state plans to keep the water budget on line for quite a while.

"Georgia would like to develop some long-range plans for the water in the Apalachicola/Chattahoochee/Flint river basin," he said. "To do so, the lake has to be studied. You have to first know how much water is available."

Georgia needs lake-water data to protect Floridians, too. "The state wants a real-time water budget to know on a weekly or even daily basis what the flows are into and out of the lake," Torak said. "This ensures delivery of water to downstream users in Florida."

Anyone can get weather data from the new stations and others from the Georgia AEMN Web site (http://www.griffin.pea Current conditions are updated hourly. Other data and summaries are updated daily at midnight.

The new weather stations will help Georgia by providing valuable water data. But UGA will benefit, too.

Expands UGA's Weather Network

"These new stations extend the weather network and improve our ability to cover the entire state," said Gerrit Hoogenboom, coordinator of the UGA weather network and a CAES associate professor of biological and agricultural engineering.

"We can now collect data from the southwest corner of Georgia," he said. "That's an area we were unable to reach before these stations were installed."

Hoogenboom would like to add more weather stations on Georgia's borders to, in effect, further broaden the area the AEMN covers.

Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.