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Posted: June 11, 2009 8:47 a.m.

Tough outdoor water restrictions lifted

ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia lifted tough outdoor water restrictions on Wednesday and declared an end to the drought that has gripped much of the state since late 2007.

"This drought has ended," Georgia Environmental Protection Division Director Carol Couch said. "Our water supplies are flush. Our rivers and streams have rebounded."

At a meeting of the State Drought Response Committee, Couch said that Georgia is moving to non-drought water rules. Homeowners can now water their lawns on three assigned days a week, based on whether they have an odd or even street addresses.

Homeowners with even-numbered addresses can water on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday and those with odd-numbered addresses may do so on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. The state is suggesting that the watering not take place between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., the hottest part of the day when water is more likely to evaporate.

Heavy rainfall in recent months has helped Georgia and the rest of the Southeast emerge from the worst drought categories. Just a year ago, more than 40 percent of the region was mired in drought. South Carolina officials on Wednesday said all of that state is out of the grips of the drought for the first time in nearly three years.

Georgia's climatologist said Wednesday that Georgia has seen the second wettest spring in 115 years.

Couch lauded Georgians in the 55 North Georgia counties under the drought restrictions for exceeding the state goal of a 10 percent drop in water consumption. Water use in those counties dropped by an average of 15 percent in the past 2 1/2 years with the state under Level 4 drought restrictions.

Those restrictions prohibit most types of outdoor residential water use although some counties received exemptions.

Gov. Sonny Perdue said Wednesday that Georgians need to remain vigilant about water conservation to prevent a repeat of the parched conditions.

"We have become more educated about water conservation, and have taken significant steps towards ensuring a long term solution," Perdue said. "I believe Georgians will continue to use our water resources wisely under this new outdoor watering schedule."

Perdue made headlines in November 2007, with the state's reservoirs drying up, he led a prayer service for rain at the state Capitol.

Georgia Conservancy President Pierre Howard said Wednesday he remains concerned that the state has not done enough to encourage long-term water conservation efforts and could end up back in a dire drought conditions without changes.

"I don't feel like Georgia has been aggressive enough," the former Democratic lieutenant governor said.

"We need to start acting like the grown up state that we are."

Perdue used the drought news on Wednesday to also announce the use of a new drip irrigation system at the governor's mansion designed to save water. Perdue said the Atlanta mansion will become "a showplace for water conservation."

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