Newton County residents hoping that the hot dry months of last summer were behind them are out of luck.
While the county has experienced relatively more rainfall than it did at this point last year, conditions are in place that could lead to a repeat of last year's record-breaking drought. In the mean time, the Level 4 Drought restrictions continue.
According to State Climatologist David Stooksbury, the northern Georgia area can anticipate "hazy, hot and humid" weather this summer with average temperatures in the low 90s.
"The big wild card in late summer and early fall rainfall is tropical, whether we have tropical storms or not," Stooksbury said.
According to Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Network, so far this year the Covington area has received 15.24 inches of rain compared to the 13.37 inches of rain the area experienced over the same time period last year.
Stooksbury said soil-moisture loss this year will exacerbate the effects of the lack of rainfall.
"We are in the time of year that moisture loss from the soils, due to evaporation and plant use, is normally greater than rainfall," he said. "If we have normal rainfall from here to the rest of the summer, we can expect the soils to get drier, regardless of anything else."
If soil in the area remains extremely dry, like it is now, temperatures in the mid-to-upper 90s and occasionally in the triple digits should be expected said Stooksbury.
Lack of soil moisture contributes to lower water levels in streams, which feed into the area's rivers, including the Alcovy River, which supplies Lake Varner.
Due to the water restrictions that have been in place since last summer, Newton County's reservoirs are in a better position going into the dry season than they were last year.
According to Karl Kelley, director of the Newton County Water Resources Department, Lake Varner, which provides the majority of the county's drinking water, is just below 100 percent of full capacity levels. City Pond, the county's second reservoir is also full he said.
"The problem that concerns me right now is that we are beginning to look like we looked last year, with the Alcovy [River] not being able to have enough flow for us to be able to pump," Kelley said. "I'm kind of hoping that we don't get into the same drought situation as we did last year, but at this point in time, it looks like we are."
Kelley said Lake Varner has been at full levels since March, due to sufficiently high levels in the Alcovy River allowing the county to pump water from the river near continuously.
Kelley said the river must maintain a natural flow of between 35 to 77 cubic feet per second in order for the county to be able to pump water from it. When it sinks below that level, the state requires that pumping cease.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, which maps real-time stream flow compared to historical stream flow around the country, Alcovy River had a cubic feet per second flow of 15 on Tuesday afternoon, necessitating the reservoir pumps be switched off. The median stream flow for the river at this time of year is 130 cfs.
Still, due to the full levels at the reservoirs, county officials are currently considering petitioning Gov. Sonny Perdue to allow the county to relax the Level 4 Drought restrictions, which only allow outdoor watering for 25 minutes, three days a week.
Kelley said he did not expect the county would go back to the Level 2 restrictions of last April, which allowed night watering on an odd-even street address schedule.
Mike Hopkins, executive director of the Newton County Water and Sewer Authority, said he has been pleased that residents have continued to adhere to their water restrictions.
"Our consumption is way down," Hopkins said, adding that consumption levels for NCWSA are down 40 percent from this time last June. "We appreciate everybody's effort in trying to save water. It is really a big difference in our water consumption."
At this time last year, under the Level 2 restrictions, NCWSA customers consumed between 160 and 170 million gallons of water a month compared to the 120 million gallons they are consuming now he said.
"Right now, what we're trying to do is just ask people to be real cautions with their water," Hopkins said. "Unless we have some unseen tropical event, it looks like it's going to be as hot and dry as last year."