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Water restrictions expected to stay in place for 2008
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Newton County residents hoping for an easing next year in the Level 4 drought restrictions which would allow them to resume watering their lawns again shouldn't hold their breaths.

In the wake of this year's record drought which has resulted in reservoir levels at Lake Varner dropping nine feet, even if the county experiences normal rainfall in 2008 residents are advised that the Level 4 and 3 drought restrictions will likely continue throughout the year.

"I hope it's just a freak occurrence," said Mike Hopkins, executive director of the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority. "If not then next year we'll have to change things. People need to realize that these Level 4 and Level 3 (restrictions) will be on through the next year unless we just start having historic floods."

According to the Southeast Regional Climate Center, the average amount of precipitation in Covington over the last 60 years was 49 inches. Thus far in 2007 the county has received 27 inches.

Assuming normal rainfall in 2008, Hopkins predicted that it would take nearly a year for Lake Varner to refill to full capacity levels. As of Tuesday it was 45 percent full according to the Newton County Water Resources Department.

"I think the public doesn't realize the problem is going to be this spring," Hopkins said. "I think everyone is really going to get fine tuned with things when they realized they can't go out and water their flowers and grass."

At the end of October, Gov. Sonny Perdue issued a mandate to 61 north Georgia counties, including Newton County, requiring them to reduce their water consumption by 10 percent.

According to a November water conservation report card for the county's nine water utilities, the top three water utilities in Newton County, comprising over 94 percent of the county's total water production, are the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority (47.5 percent), the city of Covington (20 percent) and the Walton County Water and Sewerage Authority (26.8 percent).

Of those three utilities, the city of Covington has reduced its consumption the most (25 percent compared to the December, 2006 to March, 2007 period).

Billy Bouchillon, public works director for the city of Covington in an interview on Tuesday, attributed the decrease to the city's industry base taking measures to cut down their own water consumption.

Over the past month the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority, which has 22,646 water customers, has decreased water use 2.4 percent according to the water report card.

Because the county's water customer base is almost entirely composed of private residences, Hopkins said it has taken longer for NCWSA to spread the information about the new drought restrictions.

"It will be difficult for us to see immediate results with our limitations. We just don't have the General Mills or Fibervision companies that can look internally to find big chunks of water," Hopkins said, adding that he expected to see NCWSA's numbers decrease significantly by January. "I think we're going to definitely come down. I don't know if we'll make the 10 percent."

Hopkins said it is up to private residents to police their own water use because the county does not have the personnel to go into every home to ensure they are conserving water.

One of the main measures NCWSA has undertaken to decrease water consumption is searching for and alerting customers to as many water leaks as they can find.

But with only two work crews, 600 miles of piping and over 22,000 water lines, Hopkins said NCWSA is having a difficult time finding all of the water leaks. To this end Hopkins said it would be very helpful if residents were to check their own water piping for leaks and to take measures to fix them once they are found.

Hopkins said NCWSA has locked out almost all of the automatic irrigation meters around the county but is still receiving calls from residents reporting on their neighbors for illegally watering their lawns.

"Personally I'd rather it not be an enforcement-type action," Hopkins said. "We're all in this together. If I can't drink water you can't either."