No relief in forecast for hot, parched area

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Georgia's withering drought can affect everything from the air you breathe to the cost of water and electricity - and might even boost your grocery bill.

Across some parts of the state, crops are shriveling and water tables are falling as temperatures continue to climb.

"Things aren't going well," said Sid Mullis, the director of the University of Georgia's Extension Service office in Augusta.

Corn, planted in late March and early April, is a major crop from lower Richmond County southward, with Screven and Burke ranking No. 5 and No. 6 in statewide production, according to Georgia's Agriculture Department.

"Some of the dry-land corn is already burned up and gone," Mullis said. "And even the irrigated corn is just limping by in some places, and we're hearing about irrigation ponds already going dry."

Later crops, such as cotton, soybeans and peanuts, aren't faring any better.

"Some farmers haven't even planted because the soil is too dry," Mullis said. "And a lot of the hayfields are burning up too, without any rain."

DROUGHT INDEX

Six area counties, including Richmond and Columbia, were reclassified this month from moderate to severe drought status, while most counties to the south were given extreme drought status.

"With little widespread rain and soaring temperatures over the next several days, conditions are expected to only get drier," Georgia state climatologist David Stooksbury wrote in his monthly update.

Other counties classified as being in severe drought include Hancock, Warren, McDuffie and Lincoln, he said, while extreme drought counties include Burke, Jefferson, Glascock and many areas to the south.

Those counties have received 70 percent less rain than normal since fall, with little relief in sight.

TRIPLE DIGITS

In Augusta, temperatures have pushed into the mid-90s or beyond every day this month, with triple digits in the forecast for the coming week, according to the National Weather Service.

Even with recent storms, the area remains about 4.5 inches short of normal rainfall, with many of the hottest months ahead.

During May, rainfall over much of the Augusta area was just 1.44 inches, down from almost 5 inches in May 2010.

WATER DEMAND

With Tuesday marking the first official day of summer, utility departments are already feeling the pinch of spiraling water demand.

Columbia County homeowners and businesses used 353 million gallons during the first 12 days of June, up from 202 million during the same period last year.

In Richmond County, water use has also spiked dramatically, according to the Augusta Utilities Department. So far this month, county residents have consumed an average of 59.76 million gallons a day, up from 47.36 million gallons a day in June 2010.

Those figures include water from groundwater wells and the county's Highland Avenue and Hicks surface water treatment facilities.

Much of the increase in both counties is from outdoor watering, which is prohibited between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

BAD AIR

Extended hot, dry weather can translate to bad air, especially where ground level ozone is concerned.

On June 9, when temperature at Augusta Regional Airport soared to 97 degrees, Richmond County recorded its first violation of air pollution standards in 2011 after recording just two in 2010 and none in 2009, according to Georgia's Environmental Protection Division.

The ozone season typically runs from May through October. Ozone, which can cause or aggravate respiratory ailments, is a component of smog.

POWER BILLS

Statewide demand for electricity is rising with the temperature.

So far this month, Georgia Power's 2.4 million customers are using plenty of electricity but have not set any records, company spokesman Jeff Wilson said.

"Our all-time peak, the highest ever, was 17,985 megawatts, set on Aug. 9, 2007," he said. "We're running a good 1,500 megawatts less than that on our warmest days in June -- so far."

Peak usage included 15,684 megawatts June 1 and 15,405 megawatts June 6, he said.

HYDRO DEMAND

Electricity from the Savannah River's major dams -- Thurmond, Russell and Hartwell -- is also rising this season, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

The power is marketed by the Southeastern Power Administration, which has contracts that specify how much power is to be provided by the Savannah River projects, said Stan Simpson, the corps' district water control manager.

In April, the three dams provided a weekly average of 18,504 megawatts. That increased in May to 21,948 megawatts, and will continue to rise this month through August.

Even if there is demand for higher volumes of electricity, the corps does not exceed its contracted amounts unless the lakes are in flood control stage, with excess water.

If lake levels begin to fall, the corps must reduce power production to conserve water in the reservoirs, under a formal drought management plan. During droughts, the Southeastern Power Administration often buys alternate power elsewhere for customers when hydropower production is reduced to conserve lake levels.

"Even if the weather gets hotter and the demand for power goes up, hydropower will take the backseat when we get into drought conditions," Simpson said.

DROUGHT PLAN

The drought plan that has been in place nearly a decade is under review, with proposed changes that could make it easier to conserve water if the lakes ever fell to a "Level 4" drought, in which Thurmond Lake's pool drops 18 feet below its normal full pool of 330 feet above sea level.

Under the current plan, flows would be maintained at 3,600 cubic feet per second as long as possible during a Level IV drought.

The revision would allow those flows to be reduced to as little as 3,100 cubic feet per second from Nov. 1 to Feb. 28, when cooler weather would partially offset the environmental harm from the lower flows. A final decision on the proposed change could be made later this year.

The Savannah River reservoirs have never reached Level IV, corps spokesman Billy Birdwell said.

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copperhead
1035
Points
copperhead 06/19/11 - 06:57 am
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God is punishing Georgia for

God is punishing Georgia for trying to expel "undocumented workers". It is that simple.

Richmnd Cty Votr
1
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Richmnd Cty Votr 06/19/11 - 12:02 pm
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Farmers and everyone need

Farmers and everyone need look up and to pay attention to those unmarked JETs that spew their chemical TRAIL (not contrails). They are the one drying up GA and other areas. They are controlling the jet streams. It is called GEO ENGINEERING. Look it up on line. then look up Seeding clouds, cloud Busters. They are spraying Aluminum, Barium and Strontium. Look that up too. This is the real culprit.

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