GA EPD Issues Level 1 Drought Response declaration for Athens-Clarke County

10/18/19  Worsening drought conditions prompted a Level 1 Drought Response declaration from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) for 103 counties, including Athens-Clarke County (ACC).  This declaration requires the ACC Public Utilities Department (PUD) to begin a public information campaign to help citizens better understand drought, its impact on water supplies and the need for water conservation.

There are no additional water restrictions called for in a Level 1 Drought Response, but residents should take steps to conserve water.  ACC PUD asks residents to continue to follow the water use schedule required under the Water Stewardship Act of 2010.  Outdoor water use is limited year-round to the hours between 4 p.m. and 10 a.m.  There are several exceptions to this limitation listed within the ACC Outdoor Water Use Schedule.

drought counties

How Dry is It?

The U.S. Drought Monitor is a map released every Thursday.  It uses five classifications to indicate areas of drought and labels them by intensity.  The Georgia Environmental Protection Division monitors drought indicators and determines when drought declarations are needed in Athens-Clarke County.

Drought in Athens-Clarke County

A drought is an extended period of time of abnormally low precipitation resulting in a shortage of water.  Droughts can last from a few months to several years and can occur in any climate.

Here in Athens-Clarke County, we get our drinking water from the North Oconee and Middle Oconee Rivers.  During a drought, these rivers run low and our water supply is affected.  At these times we use the Bear Creek Reservoir as a backup source of water.  Water is pumped to the reservoir from the Middle Oconee River.  If the rivers are too low for Athens-Clarke County to get water from, then the Middle Oconee is also too low to pump water into the reservoir.

How do we determine whether we are in a drought?

The Drought Triggers

The primary indicators that water resource managers look at when determining drought status are: 1) the level of the Bear Creek Reservoir, 2) flow levels of the Middle Oconee River and North Oconee River, 3) the Palmer Hydrologic Drought Index, and 4) the Standard Precipitation Index.

Drought Levels 

When these primary indicators fall below normal for an extended period of time, Athens-Clarke County reaches drought status.  These triggers are also used by the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority and are part of the Drought Contingency Plan.  There are four drought levels.  Each requires a reduction in water use.  Level 1 requires us, and all the member utilities of the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority, to reduce water consumption by 2.5%, Level 2 requires a 5% reduction, Level 3 a 10% reduction, and Level 4 requires a 20% reduction.

After the drought, be prepared for:

  • Flooding due to litter accumulation in storm drains
  • Increased erosion due to lack of grass and vegetation
  • Falling trees due to weakened root structures
  • Leaking foundations and drainage pipes due to settling
  • Continuing to use water efficiently because all the water we have today is all the water we will ever have!

The Middle Oconee River at normal flow

The Middle Oconee River at normal flow

The Middle Oconee River during a drought

The Middle Oconee River during a drought

Looking for actions you can take to reduce your water use during a drought?  Check out these tips from the EPA WaterSense

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