|The Effects of the 2007 Drought|
on Georgia's Water Supply
I recently overheard a couple of people comparing a drought to a recession. Most people don't often realize
they are heading straight into one until they are already in one. It's the experts who make their
living studying trends of the past in order to better predict such climatic events which can be put
in the context of climate change. With that in mind, the 2007 Georgia drought will certainly be
analyzed for years to come.
Experts say what "defines a drought" is when people start to become impacted and note that in Georgia's case,
there were several signs before 2007 even began that the state, along with most of the Southeast, was
going to be moisture starved. Even before the rest of us rang in 2007 with Dick Clark, local farmers
were already knocking at the knees knowing that Mother Nature was in the Driver's seat and she was
about to take one heck of a u-turn.
You see, the farmers were aware of statistics that don't normally get a lot of press outside of a casual
mention in a local weather forecast. But these statistics were being analyzed daily in The Southeast River
Forecast Center located in Peachtree City, GA. Recently, employees Todd Hamill and John Feldt have given
several presentations on the "Water Watch" to many Georgia residents.
I was lucky enough to sit in on one of these fascinating presentations where I learned more about
the "Evolution of drought." Feldt and Hamill say, "It was on record that Georgia had seen a well
below normal spring rainfall in 2006 followed by a quiet 2006 Atlantic hurricane season. Winter
2007 came and went followed by a well below normal spring rainfall for 2007 followed by another
quiet Atlantic hurricane season for 2007." It is easier to follow the yearly trend if you look
at the following graphic from SRFC presentation titled, "North Central Georgia - Climate
Division 2." It breaks down the rain deficit by month and year.
(GRAPHIC #1 COURTESY SRFC)
Essentially Feldt and Hamill say, "We missed out on all primary recharge opportunities for the past 2
years." To make matters worse, any showers that Georgia did see during its wet months were scattered.
Largely populated metro areas like Atlanta watched helplessly as beneficial rainfall missed them to
the north on one occasion and the south on another. When a La Nina pattern was noted last fall,
climatologists in the area began to push a below average forecast for rain in Atlanta. Public
confidence quickly started to sink.
John Feldt said that once June rolled around in 2007, the media began to broadcast that "north Georgia's
wet season was going to become more coastal." This would mean beneficial rain for cities like Savannah
and cites across neighboring Florida. It was explained that La Nina and El Nino only made up part
of the big picture, but the released information did little to boost public confidence.
Heading into tropical season people naturally began to wonder if a hurricane would help to reverse
the drought. So, would it? Feldt said he is "skeptical" to plant that seed in peoples' heads. More
hurricanes does not necessarily mean more landfalls in the United States. He explained that seeing
rain every three to four days would be ideal for getting the lake levels up in the reservoirs and
even though the most recent predictions "trend the Southeast below normal, that doesn't mean it
will definitely be the case," as he quickly glances at the model forecasts from ENSO from February
2008. He encourages the public to try to stay hopeful, but notes that the Climate Prediction
Center (CPC) is looking to the past to look ahead toward the future. Hence "the models won't
change because they reflect past El Nino and La Nina trends." It's possible that the models
could reflect a more favorable rainfall pattern because the ENSO pattern shifts back and forth
between La Nina and El Nino.
Hamill and Feldt say it's also important to educate the public about research done on droughts of
the past. The 2007 has already been compared with previous droughts to see how it ranks and to learn
more about predicting them in the future. Even with years of data, there is a lot to be learned
about when the current situation could possibly end. Hamill says, "The typical life cycle of a
drought is around two years, and statistics tell us that some droughts have actually lasted four
years, but some statistics have shown five year trends." The 2007 drought will need to be
compared with previous and future droughts to see how it ranks and to learn more about predicting
them in the future.
As this information continues to reach the public, people have
wanted as many specifics as possible. Before the height of the media
frenzy began in the spring of 2007, The Southeast River Forecast Center
(SRFC) realized that Joe Q. Public was going to quickly be concerned
with seeing sunny day after sunny day. They knew 2008 called for
straightforward answers, which they have been happy to provide. For
example, Hamill says a common question is, "How much H2O will it take to fill up Lake Lanier? Actually,
Ten-thousand cfs (cubic feet per second) would bring us significant improvements." Once cfs equals 450
gallons per minute. But also note that Atlanta has several different reservoirs and water sources
which can make it very hard to assess which area is in more trouble than another. For instance: Lake
Lanier can be well below average while Lake Allatoona is full.
Until residents see the reservoirs filled for a substantial period of time, the story will
continue to make headlines. Getting the state's lake levels up has become the watercooler
(pun intended!) topic of every local TV newscast. You can't flip to the news without
hearing a reporter say, "Now, if you'll just look behind me..." and point demonstratively
to the line " you'll see where the water level used to be." During 2007 in particular, hotlines
were established and broadcasted so "water watchers" could leave anonymous tips about which
of their neighbors were violating the watering bans.
Farmers were put under different watering restrictions, but many were forced to choose smaller sections
of their acreage to irrigate anyway due to cost and the risk of painfully watching their crops die if
they tried a full planting.
While Georgia is "The Peach State," it also produces 45% of the United States peanuts according to
AgGeorgia Farm Credit, ACA. The New Georgia encyclopedia states, "In 2000 Georgia ranked second in
acreage of cotton and rye, third in production of peaches and tomatoes, and fifth in tobacco acreage
and value of production." At one point, some Georgia residents decided they needed to look to
a higher power to turn heaven's
faucets back on. Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue and members of the Georgia Farm Bureau held a "Day
of Prayer for Agriculture" in June 2007.
Perdue decided to hold another public prayer service in November 2007 on the front lawn of the state house.
Perdue took heat from protestors who attended the event, but the service was completed peacefully. Periods
of steady drizzle followed after a couple of days had passed bringing a small amount of measurable rain
according to the National Weather Service, but it didn't put a dent in the overall water deficit.
Atlanta saw less than one inch of rain for the month.
The effects of the 2007 drought reached far beyond the Georgia border. The small town of Orme, TN got more
than it's fair share of publicity in 2007 due to lack of rain for it's main water sources. Water was
trucked in from nearby states like Alabama, but residents were still restricted to water usage for
three hours a day between 6pm and 9pm. Many residents who made a living working second or third
shift complained that they had to work during that time, leaving them in an even
bigger "personal" water crisis.
The 2007 drought taught most of the southeastern United States a huge lesson: Every drop counts. While
climate experts say there is no proof at this point that the drought is connected to global warming, its
effects will be analyzed for years to come.
(GRAPHIC #2 COURTESY SRFC)
1) Todd Hamill & John Feldt (Speakers.) (March 17, 2008). (powerpoint
presentation). Water Watch: Water Resources Outlook. Southeast River
Forecast Center, Georgia.
2) AgGeorgia Farm Credit, ACA, (2008), Retrieved, April 11, 2008,
Peanuts - One of Georgia's Largest Cash Crops, from
3) The New Georgia Encylopedia, (2008), Retrieved, April 11, 2008,
Agriculture in Georgia Overview, from
4) Georgia Farm Bureau, (2008), Retrieved, April 11, 2008, GFB Observes
Day of Prayer for Agriculture, from
5) Atlanta Journal Constitution, (2007), Retrieved, April 11, 2008,
Perdue Asks Crowd to "Pray up a storm,"
6) National Weather Service, (2008), Retrieved, April 12, 2008, Climate
Date for November 2007, from
7) Orme, TN, (2008), Retrieved, April 12, 2008, Orme, Tennessee -
Wikipedia, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orme,_Tennessee