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Posted: March 22, 2009 12:01 a.m.

Watered down

Drip irrigation, soaking hoses now allowed, other restrictions still in place

Pete Mortimer/USDA/

Soil cut away to expose a drip irrigation line in a tomato field.

Newton County residents can now water their plants with two high-efficient watering devices, but the county will soon decide whether to ask the state to allow residents to wash their cars and water their lawns.

As of March 3, Georgia residents in counties under Level IV drought restrictions, which includes Newton County, are now allowed to use drip irrigation systems and soaker hoses to water their shrubs, trees, and flowerbeds for up to one hour, three days a week. Grass and turf are not allowed to be watered with these devices.

Carol Couch, director for the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, ordered the relaxed restrictions and said drip irrigation systems and soaker hoses were "high-efficiency outdoor watering devices and have proven to be effective tools in conserving water, particularly during drought."

The Web site conservewatergeorgia.net describes drip irrigation as a "highly efficient irrigation system that slowly waters the soil directly around the base of individual plants through small flexible pipes and emitters." The Web site said soaker hoses are less expensive and more easily accessible than drip irrigation systems and "deliver water slowly and directly to the soil around the base of individual plants."

Like the previous outdoor watering restrictions, these devices can only be used for three days a week between the hours of midnight and 10 a.m. Odd numbered addresses may water Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays and even numbered and unnumbered addresses may water Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

However, these devices can be used for an hour, as opposed to the 25 minute limit on hand watering. Hand watering is defined by the state as "one person with one garden hose with a spray nozzle that shuts off when it is released."

Previous restrictions remain unchanged. For a list of the updated restrictions and more information visit the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s Web site at gaepd.org

 

More than just plants?

With Lake Varner back up to its full level of 701.4 feet, county officials may also petition the state to lessen the outdoor water use restrictions even further, said Mike Hopkins, Executive Director of the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority.

Even though the county’s reservoirs are at full levels, the Atlanta region continues to receive below normal amounts of rainfall. According to Assistant State Climatologist Pam Knox, Atlanta received 3.7 inches of rainfall in February, almost an inch below normal levels.

Karl Kelly said that Lake Varner always fills up at this time of the year, unless the county is in a severe drought. So the full levels may not mean Newton County is in the clear, he said. Morgan said the county does not want to get into a situation where they receive relaxed restrictions, only to see Lake Varner’s levels drop again drop to dangerous levels.

Hopkins said he hopes the county applies for the relaxed level, but he said it would be up to residents to continue to use the necessary water conservation practices.

"My expectation is that these conservation practices would stick," Hopkins said. "That way the governor doesn’t have to step in. That’s the wrong way to go. The community needs to take (water conservation) seriously."

According to the state, 52 local governments and other entities have been granted relaxed outdoor water use restrictions. These relaxed restrictions allow water to be used for irrigating landscapes and washing vehicles, hard surfaces or buildings, among other uses. There are three different types of relaxed restrictions, Level IV a, b and c, which allow these expanded uses for one, two or three days a week on the same odd-even address schedule currently used. Surrounding Rockdale and Henry counties are at Level IV c restrictions.

Newton County has not requested a more lenient outdoor water use schedule and Chairman Kathy Morgan is not sure if they will now. The Newton County Drought Response Team is planning its first meeting in about 4 months and will decide at that time whether to apply for relaxed restrictions.

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