Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"Treat water as precious commodity"

Editorial from the montgomeryadvertiser.com

Don't wash that car. Don't even think about washing that car. In fact, a dirty, dusty car needs to become a point of pride, at least for the next few months.

Throughout much of the South, including virtually all of Alabama, a lingering drought has city and rural water officials scrambling to come up with contingency plans in case water levels continue to fall.

And that's a distinct possibility, with weather authorities saying the drought-plagued Southeast is likely to remain drier than average due to a developing La Niña weather pattern.

"La Niña is here, with a weak-to-moderate event likely to persist through the winter," said Michael Halpert, head of forecast operations at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. "The big concern this winter may be the persistence of drought across large parts of the already parched South."

In Georgia, the huge Lake Lanier could become so dry within 90 days that it could no longer be a source of water for communities. The lake provides water to more than 3 million people.

The governor of Georgia has asked Georgians to take shorter showers, and many restaurants will only serve water to customers who ask for it.

Alabama is downstream from Georgia, so any problems Georgia has with water supplies affects much of this state as well. Already Alabama is at loggerheads with Georgia over the release of water from Allatoona Lake in north Georgia. Reduced releases of water from the lake affect water flow into the Coosa River in Alabama and eventually the Alabama River as well.

That had Gov. Bob Riley predicting "serious environmental damage to the state of Alabama, and it has the high likelihood of causing serious disruptions to Alabama's public water supply, electric power grid and industrial workforce."

Meanwhile, falling lake levels from the extended drought are threatening municipal water supplies in several Alabama communities, including Gadsden, Centre and Alexander City. Alexander City on the Tallapoosa River began taking emergency measures recently to make sure it can continue to pump water out of Lake Martin.

The Central Elmore Water and Sewer Authority, which serves most of central Elmore County, is spending $350,000 to ensure that it can continue to pump water from Lake Martin as falling water levels drop below the authority's intakes. The authority has also raised water rates for large residential users -- those who use more than twice the average amount for residences.

In Alabama, 91 percent of the state's land area is under at least an extreme drought, and 58 percent is under exceptional drought conditions -- the worst level. All of Montgomery, Autauga and Elmore counties are in the exceptional drought category, as are all of the counties contiguous to Montgomery County.

Weather officials say it would take months of higher than normal rainfall to offset the effects of the drought, and there is nothing to indicate such rainfall is in the offing in the near future.

Until the drought ends, we urge readers not to consider a lawn that is deep, dark green as something beautiful, but as something wasteful. Businesses need to control their automatic sprinklers, many of which are set to run each evening whether they are needed or not. Check pipes and faucets for leaks. While we would not recommend forgoing showers -- things aren't that bad yet -- it would be a good idea not to linger in the shower longer than necessary.

In other words, start treating water as if it is something precious, because it is.

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