Each summer, it is hot in Augusta. Really hot.
During the hottest spells -- when relief from rain is rare and water restrictions are rampant -- Augustans begin to look for water source alternatives.
"All of the homes behind me used to have well pumps when they were built 50 years ago," said west Augusta resident Haywood Johnson, his sprinkler spraying nearby. "Now we use city water in the house, but I use my pump just to water the yard. My water bill would be $200 or $300 if I didn't have it, because I run it all day long. That'd add up if you were using city water."
And water works officials don't mind the wells.
"It can cost between $3,000 and $6,000 to punch a well in the ground. But as expensive as this drinking water is getting to pour on the ground, you might see more and more people opting to do that," said Billy Clayton, Columbia County's water and sewer director. "Right now, we love those folks because it takes some of the strain off us."
Other residents are hoping to pump directly from water sources near their homes.
"We have a shoreline-measurement program that allows water withdrawal in some areas of the shoreline for nonpotable uses," said Tom Lewis, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers natural resources manager for Thurmond Lake. "There are about 150 permits issued to adjacent lot owners, the majority of whom use it to water grass on private property. It costs $35 every five years."
Georgia Environmental Protection Division officials said it's OK with them, too, unless someone is planning to withdraw a tremendous volume of water.
"State law says if you're going to withdraw more than 100,000 gallons a day on a monthly average, you need to get a permit," said Nap Caldwell, manager of the state's water resources management program.
Otherwise, he said, a permit is unnecessary.
Even the city of Augusta has gotten in on the pumping act.
"Any water we can get down on the ground right now is a key asset," said Derek Vanover, assistant director for the Augusta Trees and Landscape Department. "The National Guard is helping us with two tanker trucks which have a pump mounted on the back of each vehicle. They lower into the water like a boat ramp and pump directly. We're using them and two trucks of our own to water the main corridors."
"If there's a law against it, the waterworks doesn't know anything about it," said April Myers, an administrative assistant with the Augusta Utilities Department. "People have been calling us and letting us know what they're doing because we have the `water-Nazi' patrol out. Nobody has jumped up and down and raised Cain, so it must be OK."
One challenge remains, however, for those who water during a ban: convincing everyone else that city water is not being used.
"People are posting signs saying `I'm using well water' or `I'm using a pump to draw water from Rae's Creek,"' said Ms. Myers.
"The Augusta National (Golf Club) even told us to tell people they're drawing their own water so they wouldn't get bad publicity."