Thursday, September 17, 2009

Gwinnett Files Notice to Appeal in Water Wars Decision

Gwinnett County has filed a notice of appeal in response to the July 17, 2009, decision of Judge Paul Magnuson in the Jacksonville, Fla., District Court on the long-running “Water Wars” cases in which Gwinnett County is a party. Summarized, the judge ruled that if no congressional resolution is reached in three years, Gwinnett County must cease taking water for drinking and fire protection purposes from Lake Lanier.

Commission Chairman Charles Bannister said, “It is imperative that we protect our citizens from this draconian ruling that would jeopardize the public health, public safety and economic well-being of every Gwinnett County resident. We cannot simply stand by and hope others solve the severe water resources problem for us, but must take positive action to protect our citizens and our economy. Gwinnett continues to support the efforts of Gov. Perdue, the State of Georgia and the other water providers in the region to solve this problem with our neighbors to the west and south. We are optimistic that the three governors can reach agreement on this water use problem and that Congress will pass legislation to solve this matter once and for all.”

Gwinnett County, which has a withdrawal permit from the State of Georgia for 150 million gallons per day (monthly average), takes an average of 80 million gallons per day from Lake Lanier during a typical year. Early next year, the County will begin putting reclaimed water back into Lake Lanier.

“We have a permit from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to discharge 40 million gallons per day back to the lake,” said Lynn Smarr, Acting Director of Gwinnett’s Water Resources Department. “We have initiated dialog with the EPD that will allow us to use this permit to the maximum capacity, based upon flows at the Hill Plant, just as soon as the pipeline construction is complete.”
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Friday, September 4, 2009

August weather a mixed bag across Georgia

Rainfall across east Georgia was below normal in August. However, the coastal area received heavy flooding. West Georgia received above normal rainfall, too.

The highest monthly total from National Weather Service was 8.26 inches in Columbus (4.48 inches above normal). The lowest was in Augusta at 2.26 inches (2.08 inches below normal).

Atlanta received 6.14 inches (2.47 inches above normal), Athens 2.70 inches (1.08 inches below normal), Macon 3.83 inches (.04 inches above normal), Alma 5.79 inches (.29 inches above normal), Savannah 7.86 inches (.66 inches above normal), and Brunswick 7.10 inches (.94 inches above normal).

So far, Athens has seen its driest summer since 1993.

Savannah reported severe flooding on August 3, with most of the rain falling in a 2-hour period coinciding with high tide. An observer at Pooler reported 4.62 inches for the day.

The highest monthly total rainfall from the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network was 15.14 inches measured on Wilmington Island near Savannah. Two other Savannah area observers reported 14.93 and 14.22 inches. An observer in Effingham County reported 14.03 inches for the month.

The highest daily rainfall reported by a CoCoRaHS observer was 5.10 inches in Grovetown in Columbia County on Aug. 13, followed by 3.82 inches in Martinez and 3.79 inches on Skidaway Island. On Aug. 28, 3.74 inches fell in north Atlanta in DeKalb County. Snellville got 3.72 inches on Aug.15.

The Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring site in Randolph County reported 12.52 inches for the month, including 4.84 inches on Aug. 28, the highest amount reported in southwestern Georgia.

Three daily record maximum rainfalls occurred in August. One was in Atlanta, where a daily maximum rainfall of 1.57 inches was reported on August 28. The second was in Columbus, which received 2.32 inches on Aug. 11. The other was in Brunswick, where a daily rainfall of 2.34 inches was reported on Aug. 12.

The monthly average temperature in Atlanta was 78.9 degrees F (exactly normal), in Athens 79.7 degrees (1.3 degrees above normal), Columbus 79.6 degrees (1.7 degrees below normal), Macon 80 degrees (normal), Savannah 81.2 degrees (.4 degrees above normal), Brunswick 81.1 degrees (.2 degrees below normal), Alma 80.6 degrees (.5 degrees below normal) and Augusta 80.4 degrees (1.1 degrees above normal). Brunswick tied their record low with 70 degrees on August 5.

No tornadoes were reported. There were reports of strong winds or small hail on 13 days. Damage was mainly from toppled trees and scattered power outages. Lightning associated with some of the storms did cause several house fires in the metro Atlanta area, particularly at the end of the month. A 14-year-old boy was severely injured by a lightning strike during a football practice Aug. 12 in Evans County.

Scattered rains helped crops in some locations but hindered harvesting in other areas. Corn yield may be better than expected due to timely rains.

By Pam Knox
University of Georgia

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Georgia Farms Will Need More Water in the Future

A recent University of Georgia report shows that Georgia farmers will need 20 percent more water to grow their crops in the next four decades. They'll need it to meet increased food demand and to compete globally.

“Without irrigation, in many places, there is no farming,” said Jim Hook, a professor with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “And for many regions of the state, agriculture is still the best economic bet for growth.”

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division commissioned the report, which was produced by a team of UGA crop and weather experts. Its purpose is to provide information to the state's regional water councils meeting throughout the state this month, said Hook, who is the team's leader.

The councils will consider the report as they develop water plans for their regions, which will then be added to the overall state water plan. The state plan will also include forecasts for population and economy, energy use, land use and water and wastewater demands.

The forecast predicts the water farmers will need to irrigate pecans and major row crops like cotton, peanuts, corn and soybeans, which account for 85 percent of the current irrigation needs. Vegetables, orchards, blueberries, sod farms and nurseries were also included. It specifies whether the water will come from groundwater (underground water) or surface water (water from ponds, rivers or streams).

It includes how much water farmers will need in a dry, average or wet year. In Georgia, Mother Nature can be a bit mischievous in when and where rainfall hits.

“In Western states, it's easier to know how much water you have each year. It's either collected in reservoirs or stored as mountain icecaps,” Hook said. “That's not the case in Georgia, where recharge is less predictable.”

For example, if 2011 is a dry year from spring through fall, farmers will need 800 million gallons of water per day from underground sources and 300 million gallons per day from surface sources, according to the forecast. If 2050 is a dry year, they will need 1 billion gallons per day from underground sources and 400 million gallons per day from surface water.

“Georgia's agriculture sector will continue to be a major water user in the state,” he said.
The forecast is broken down by water planning regions, counties, river basins and sub-basins. The county data includes monthly water demands, crop projections and current irrigated fields.
Existing computer models were used to make the forecast, he said, which took 9 months to complete.

Economic models from the U.S. Department of Agriculture were used to predict farmers' crop choices over the next decade, focusing particularly on farmers in the Southeast. Crop models developed by CAES researchers were used to foretell crop water needs and climate data.
Geographical Information System, or GIS, images were used to locate the 23,000 fields in Georgia that have irrigation systems, including more than 15,000 center pivots, or large systems that rotate in a field.

Future irrigation use will happen in places where the practice is already established, particularly in southwest Georgia, the state's row-crop and vegetable production hub. The area's water needs are fueled by one of the largest water supplies in the country: the Floridan aquifer. It starts near the state's fall line and runs east into extreme southern South Carolina and south through Florida.

“The Floridan is a massive water supply,” Hook said.

The aquifer is recharged by water that falls in south Georgia, he said. Its levels are not connected to any rainfall or use in north Georgia, where water comes from surface water supplies that don't make it into the aquifer.

Irrigation use exploded in 1970s and ‘80s in Georgia, when irrigated acres jumped from 200,000 acres to 1 million acres, he said. Since then, it has been a steady increase to the 1.5 million irrigated acres today.

It is estimated that farmers have invested almost $3 billion in today's dollars in irrigation equipment and infrastructure in the state over the past four decades, he said, an investment that is responsible for much of the $3 billion to $4 billion in annual crop sales in Georgia.
To view the entire forecast, visit

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia
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