Originally created 06/19/03

Drought laws discussed as rainstorms continue



NORTH AUGUSTA - Sheets of rain, flooded streets, mudslides that blocked a highway and lightning that fried police phones and radios were all telltale signs of a violent rush-hour rainstorm that has been typical of a very wet June.

It was the perfect backdrop for discussion about a drought ordinance.

Shaking off the storm, North Augusta City Council members had to stifle giggles when they started discussing a state-required drought ordinance.

"Timing is everything," said City Administrator Charles Martin of Monday night's discussion, which took place as rainwater flooded city streets.

"Sitting there talking about this, people had grins on their faces. It's weird timing."

Weird or not, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources wants uniform drought ordinances at the end of a five-year stretch of dryness that has been broken by near-continuous rain - and the agency wants them now.

North Augusta's drought ordinance has been on the books since the 1980s but needed revamping to meet state guidelines, Mr. Martin said.

There has been so much rain, in fact, that weeds in farmers' fields are overpowering their robust crops, said John Oxner, a county extension agent. That has Carl Brown Jr., an Aiken farmer, almost praying for the unbelievable - an end to the rain.

"It's hard to fuss too much when we've really spent these last five years praying for rain that we couldn't get," Mr. Brown said with a laugh. "Now you're getting close to praying for a break, but I try to resist that."

The farmer struggles with keeping fertilizers and chemicals on the ground long enough to be soaked up before they're washed away. He also battles to ensure that his heavy farming equipment doesn't get caught in the mud.

"When you go to a field, you better have a long chain and an extra tractor," Mr. Brown said.

North Augusta officials have sent their updated drought ordinance to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. If it is approved, it will be returned and council members will vote to accept it, Mr. Martin said.

Elsewhere, Aiken passed the first reading of its updated drought ordinance June 9.

Across the Savannah River, Georgia officials lifted statewide water restrictions in January, but Richmond County is still under a voluntary even-odd program that forbids lawn watering on Mondays but allows residents with odd numbered addresses to turn on sprinklers Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays and those with even-numbered addresses to do so on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Even with water, water everywhere, one Aiken water expert is comfortable with the state's requirement.

"No, (it's) not silly at all," said Public Works Director Larry Morris."The time to be prepared for something is before it happens. South Carolina historically has periods of wet followed by periods of dry, and if we get this thing in place now then when the next dry period comes, we'll be ready."

Water Regulations

South Carolina public water providers have to send a draft drought ordinance to the state by June 30.

Georgia's mandatory restrictions were lifted in January, but Richmond County is still under voluntary limits on lawn watering that follows the odd-even address system.

Reach Sara Bancroft at (803) 279-6895 or sara.bancroft@augustachronicle.com.