Drought-Stricken South Facing Tough Choices
The New York Times, Oct. 16, 2007
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.
"ow I don' want to have to use these powers,"Mr. Easley told a meeting of mayors and other city officials. "s leaders of your communities, you know what works best at the local level. I am asking for your help."
Officials in the central
The hard numbers have shocked the Southeast into action, even as many people wonder why things seem to have gotten so bad so quickly.
Last week, Mayor Charles L. Turner of
"It's really alarming," said Janice Terry, co-owner of the Best Foods cafeteria in
Most controversially, it has stopped offering tap water to customers, making them buy 69-cent bottles of water instead. "We've had people walk out," Ms. Terry said. "They get mad when they can't get a free glass of water."
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 David E. Stooksbury, the state climatologist of Georgia, has dubbed the Rodney Dangerfield of natural disasters, a reference to that comedians repeated lament that he got no respect.
People pay attention to hurricanes, Mr. Stooksbury said. They pay attention to tornadoes and earthquakes. But a drought will sneak up on you.
The situation has gotten so bad that by all of Mr. Stooksburys measures the percentage of moisture in the soil, the flow rate of rivers, inches of rain this drought has broken every record in
Mayor Shirley Franklin of
Others wondered why the calls to conserve came so late.
I think theres been an ostrich-head-in-the-sand syndrome that has been growing, said Mark Crisp, an Atlanta-based consultant with the engineering firm C. H. Guernsey. Because we seem to have been very, very slow in our actions to deal with an impending crisis.
Mr. Crisp is among a chorus of experts who have warned for years that
Many had hoped that hurricane season, as it has in the past, would bring several soaking storms to the Southeast to replenish reservoirs that are at or near all-time lows. But the longed-for rains never materialized, and now in October, traditionally the driest month, significant rainfall remains out of the picture.
Were in a stressful situation now, Mr. Crisp said, but come next spring, if we dont have substantial rainfall this winter, these reservoirs are not going to refill.
That would leave metro
Others pointed to the Southeasts inexperience with drought and to explosive growth in population as complicating factors.
In the West, people expect that its dry, and youre going to have drought situations, said Michael J. Hayes, director of the
Heres the fly in the ointment, Mr. Hayes added. The vulnerability in the Southeast has changed. Population shifts, increased competition and demand for water has increased, so thats made this drought worse than it might have been.
Within two weeks, Carol Couch, director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, is expected to send Gov. Sonny Perdue recommendations on tightening water restrictions, which may include mandatory cutbacks on commercial and industrial users.
If that happens, experts at the
The situation is very dire, Mr. Hayes said.