Friday, November 21, 2008

More Variable and Uncertain Water Supply: Global Warming’s Wake-Up Call for the Southeastern U.S.

The second major drought of the last decade is a wake-up call for the Southeast United States, showing the region’s vulnerability due to its reliance on scarce supplies of fresh water.

The region has been operating under the best-case water availability for the last 50 years, during which drought conditions were relatively rare. But, the region has historically experienced regular droughts. Global warming is the future wildcard, potentially causing both more extremely dry periods and more heavy rainfall events. At the same time, warming-induced sea-level rise will increase the risk of saltwater intrusion into important groundwater aquifers.

A new report from National Wildlife Federation offers the latest scientific research on global warming and water supplies, competition for resources, demographic factors, and how to better prepare for managing the region’s water availability challenges.

“Since 1960, the region’s population doubled and water use for municipalities, irrigation, and thermoelectric power more than tripled. The Southeast is one of the fastest growing parts of the country,” said Amanda Staudt, Climate Scientist for National Wildlife Federation.

In fact, 58 of the 100 fastest growing counties in the nation are in the nine states of the Southeast. The report includes information about Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

More Variable and Uncertain Water Supply: Global Warming’s Wake-Up Call for the Southeastern U.S. details how:

Water supplies in the Southeastern United States will be more variable and uncertain in the coming decades;
Rapidly expanding population, irrigation, and thermoelectric power use has increased water demand;
Recent droughts underscore the Southeast’s vulnerability;
The astonishing biodiversity of the Southeast is at risk; and
The Southeast should plan for increasing variability in water supplies.
Strategies for meeting the increasing demand for water in the Southeast have not typically accounted for the regular occurrence of drought, as illustrated by recent droughts. During 2007 alone, crop losses are estimated at more than $1.3 billion and wildfires ravaged 600,000 acres in Georgia and Florida.

Climate changes will affect water supplies to communities and put the amazing biodiversity of the Southeast at risk. The river basins of the Southeast are globally renowned for fish, mussels, salamanders and other freshwater species, many of which are already imperiled. Climate change—and the increasingly extreme weather patterns it brings—now poses new threats to these species.

“Global warming presents new challenges for managing America’s water resources, especially in our southeastern states,” added Dr. Staudt. “To prevent the worst impacts of climate change and limit the impacts on communities and wildlife, we must reduce global warming pollution.”

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Fayette County's Whitewater High School Student Inventors Win $10,000 MIT Grant

The five Whitewater High students who won a $10,000 grant from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to make a prototype invention of a combined dehydrator/condenser have caught the attention of the Discovery Channel.

Their invention, aimed at dehydrating algae for use as biodiesel while simultaneously collecting purified water for drinking and other uses, is now featured on Discovery’s website as part of the channel’s sustainable news section. This will bring a lot of exposure to the students since almost six million people a day sign on to the website.

“This is really a honor for our students to be featured. People all over the world will know about their work and achievement,” says Carolyn Smith, one of the teachers working with the students on the invention.

The InvenTeam at Whitewater was one of only 16 high school teams across the country chosen to receive the Lemelson-MIT grant that will enable them to build a prototype of their idea and present it at a conference at MIT this spring. They are the first team in Fayette County to win a grant and only the second from Georgia.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

VSU Hosts First Water for Life Event Nov. 22

Several student organizations will host the first ever Water for Life celebration on Saturday, Nov. 22. at Valdosta State University.

Members of the VSU and local communities have a chance to participate in a sprint triathlon and concert benefit. The triathlon will include a 300-yard swim, a six-mile bike ride and a two-mile run starting at 6:50 a.m. at Campus Recreation with a registration fee of $25 for individuals and $50 for relay teams of three.

People are encouraged to register before Friday, Nov. 14, in order to receive a free t-shirt and a guaranteed place in the competition. Registered members must be at least 15 years of age and provide his/her own bike and department of transportation-approved helmet. Participants can register late from 6:30-6:50 a.m. on competition day.

A free concert will also take place on the front lawn from 3-8 p.m. by local band Soular 7. Students are encouraged to bring a blanket and enjoy the casual community event.

The triathlon will benefit WaterAid America, which focuses on improving water quality and sanitation for the underprivileged. The organization reaches out to 17 different countries and has already improved water quality for more than 11 million people. The foundation installs sustainable technologies to provide clean water access to contaminated communities. Locals install the equipment themselves with facilitation from WaterAid representatives.

“I decided before graduating in December how cool it would be if we could get a bunch of people to do something healthy in the community to raise a bunch of money to contribute to the cause of healthier living,” Ben said.

Call Ben Hortman for registration details, more information and the specified bike/run route at (678) 873-3898 or visit . Businesses and individuals can donate to the cause at .

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Drought Tightens its Grip on North Georgia

Drought conditions continue to grow harsher across north Georgia. Water levels in reservoirs and streams are at or near record lows across most of the region. Groundwater levels are also low.

Lake Lanier, a primary water source for metro Atlanta, is at a record low for mid-November. The previous mid-November record low was at this time last year.

Hartwell, Russell and Clarks Hill lakes in the Savannah River basin are at record low levels. Both Russell and Clarks Hill have less than two feet of usable pool left. Hartwell water levels are dropping very quickly in order to meet downstream needs. The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers reports that the remaining conservation pool for Hartwell is 34 percent, for Russell it’s 32 percent and for Clarks Hill it’s 10 percent.

Even with normal seasonal rains, it’s doubtful that Lanier, Hartwell, Russell or Clarks Hill lakes will fully recover this winter.

Major rivers that are at record low flows for mid-November include the Etowah River at Canton, the Chattahoochee River near Cornelia, Chestatee River near Dahlonega, the Middle Oconee River at Athens, the Broad River near Bell, the Little River near Washington, the Oconee River at Dublin and the Altamaha River near Baxley.

Because of the extremely low stream flows, many counties in north Georgia have had their drought level classifications changed to a more intense level.

Exceptional drought – the most severe drought level - now exists north and east of a line running through Lincoln, Wilkes, Olgethorpe, Oconee, Barrow, Gwinnett, Hall, Forsyth, Cherokee, Pickens, Gilmer and Fannin counties. This region includes Athens, Gainesville and Atlanta’s northern suburbs.

Extreme drought conditions are now in Columbia, Richmond, McDuffie, Glascock, Taliaferro, Warren, Hancock, Greene, Morgan, Walton, Gwinnett, north Fulton and Cherokee counties. The extreme conditions are also in parts of Pickens, Gilmer, Fannin and Murray counties.

Most of the remaining area north of the fall line is in severe drought. Heard, Troup, Harris and most of Talbot and Muscogee counties are in moderate drought.

The ocean-atmosphere system is in what climatologist call a neutral pattern, meaning it is in neither an El Niño nor a La Niña pattern. Historically, neutral-pattern winters have been very variable.

There is no strong indication that the winter of 2008-09 will be abnormally wet or dry. The trend over the past 15 years, however, has been for dry winters.

There is also no strong indication that the winter will be abnormally warm or cool. An important historical observation is that every major devastating freeze has occurred during a neutral-pattern winter.

With recent winters being our best guide, the most prudent response is to assume that this winter will tend toward the dry side. Water conservation efforts should continue.

Additional drought information and updates can be found at Automated weather data across Georgia is at Daily rainfall data is at U.S. Geological Survey data is at Water conservation information is available at

By David Emory Stooksbury
University of Georgia

David Emory Stooksbury is the state climatologist and a professor in engineering and atmospheric sciences at the University of Georgia.

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