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Drought-Stricken South Facing Tough Choices

Worst-case analyses indicate that Lake Lanier, the main water source for Atlanta, could be drained dry within four months

ATLANTA, Oct. 15 —For the FIRST TIME IN MORE THAN 100 YEARS, much of the Southeast has reached the most severe category of drought, climatologists said Monday, creating an emergency so serious that some cities are just months away from running out of water. Officials in the central North Carolina town of Siler City estimate that without rain, they are 80 days from draining the Lower Rocky River Reservoir, which supplies water for the town’s 8,200 people. In the Atlanta metropolitan area, which has more than four million people, worst-case analyses show that the city’s main source of water, Lake Lanier, could be drained dry in 90 to 121 days. The hard numbers have shocked the Southeast into action, even as many people wonder why things seem to have gotten so bad so quickly. For the better part of 18 months, cloudless blue skies and high temperatures have shriveled crops and bronzed lawns from North Carolina to Alabama, quietly creating what the state climatologist of Georgia has dubbed “the Rodney Dangerfield of natural disasters,” a reference to that comedian’s repeated lament that he got “no respect.” “People pay attention to hurricanes. They pay attention to tornadoes and earthquakes. But a drought will sneak up on you.” The situation has gotten so bad that by all measures — the percentage of moisture in the soil, the flow rate of rivers, inches of rain — THIS DROUGHT HAS BROKEN EVERY RECORD IN GEORGIA'S HISTORY. Within two weeks, the director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, is expected to send the Governor recommendations on tightening water restrictions, which may include mandatory cutbacks on commercial and industrial users. If that happens, experts at the National Drought Mitigation Center said, it would be the first time a major metropolitan area in the United States had been forced to take such drastic action to save its water supply. “The situation is very dire.”
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