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Perdue relaxes state drought restrictions
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In the wake of increased rains and a gradual refilling of the region's reservoirs, Gov. Sonny Perdue has relaxed several of the drought restrictions put in place in September, including the prohibition on refilling swimming pools and on the hand-watering of lawns.

The Level 4 Drought Response restrictions have been eased to allow hand watering for 25 minutes per day on an odd-even schedule between midnight and 10 a.m. Odd numbered addresses can water on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Even numbered addresses can water on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.

According to a press release from the governor's office, hand watering is defined as one person with one garden hose with a spray nozzle that shuts off when it is released.

The governor's mandate of a 10 percent reduction in water consumption remains in effect for the 61 N orth Georgia counties in the Level 4 Drought Response area, including Newton County.

Beginning April 1, however, the water reduction requirement will be calculated using average monthly water use from the April to September period in 2007.

Currently the water reduction requirement is calculated based on water use during the period of December 2006 through March 2007. The move to a summer baseline period from a winter period will allow for higher water consumption base levels as the public uses more water during the summer season said Karl Kelley, director of Newton County's Water Resources Department.

Though Newton County's Drought Response Team, formed in October in response to the governor's mandate, met on Wednesday to go over their monthly water figures. Kelley said the team will meet again next week at the request of County Chairman Aaron Varner. The team will review Gov. Perdue's revised mandate and establish uniform countywide restrictions based on those of the state Kelly said.

"When we met [on Wednesday] we knew that the news [from the governor] was coming out so we didn't get an opportunity to discuss it at our meeting," Kelley said.

The Drought Response Team is comprised of water utilities whose raw water source is Lake Varner and/or City Pond.

The governor's decision to allow the refilling of swimming pools comes as a great relief to the state's Association of Pool and Spa Professionals who lobbied Perdue hard to ease the ban on the refilling of swimming pools.

Both public and private swimming pools can be refilled from April through September. According to the release from the governor's office there are approximately 6,500 public pools and 92,000 private pools in the 61-county Level 4 Drought Response area. According to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, the refilling of those pools will require seven million gallons of water a day.

The governor's revised restrictions also allow for the watering of newly installed landscapes. For a period of 10 weeks after the landscape was first planted, landscapes can be watered three days a week from midnight to 10 a.m. Landscape companies must participate in the Outdoor Water Use Registration Program - which is expected to be implemented by April 1 - if they wish to take part in the revised landscape restrictions. Those wishing to take part in the program should contact County Extension Agent Ted Wynne for help in registering.

Local progress

Newton County's utilities fell back slightly in their progress in meeting the governor's mandate in January. The county reduced consumption on a per customer basis by 6.1 percent compared to last winter. In December the county's water utilities had decreased water consumption by 7.5 percent.

In January water consumption rose slightly to 7.063 million gallons compared to the 6.957 million gallons used in December, according to the most recent water conservation report card.

Last month the biggest change in water usage came from the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority which decreased consumption by 12.3 percent compared to December 2007 for an overall decrease of 14.7 percent from last winter.

With 21,797 water users, the vast majority of which are private residences, the NCWSA is the county's largest water utility, consuming 42.4 percent of the county's total water production.

The city of Covington saw its water consumption increase by more than 25 percent in the last month. According to water conservation report cards, in December the on a per customer basis the average daily usage was 239.1 gallons. In January average daily usage increased to 320.8 gallons.

The Walton County Water and Sewerage Authority, which owns 25 percent of Lake Varner, also saw its consumption levels increase slightly in the last month from 164.4 gallons a day to 169.8 gallons a day.

Walton County figures were not included in the calculation of the county's total water reduction as a loss of supply from other sources has required Walton County to withdraw more water from Lake Varner than in previous years.

Together NCWSA, the city of Covington and WCWSA comprise nearly 95 percent of the county's total water production.

The city of Oxford and the city of Mansfield greatly decreased their water consumption on a per customer basis in the last month. Oxford decreased consumption by 31.4 percent since December. Mansfield decreased consumption by 17.1 percent.

Kelley said he has not received any response from EPD to a letter he sent last month asking for special consideration of Newton County's population growth in the last year in meeting the governor's 10 percent reduction mandate. The letter also asked EPD to evaluate progress on a per customer basis rather than on a wholesale basis.

However the latest forms issued by EPD to each water utility in the Level 4 Drought Response area allows utilities to factor in the actual number of users so water reduction will now be factored on a per customer basis Kelley said.

Since its lowest point right after Thanksgiving, Lake Varner has risen 7 feet. As of Tuesday the reservoir was 86 percent full. The water pumped from the Alcovy River has provided the bulk of the reservoir's water recovery. City Pond remains at full levels.