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Water supply solid despite sweltering summer heat

LAWRENCEVILLE

Despite a statewide watering ban and lower lake levels in the reservoir that provides Gwinnett its water, officials in both Gwinnett and Barrow counties say residents are in good shape during this drought.

At 1,064.04 feet, Lake Sidney Lanier's water level was nearly 7 feet below normal summer levels Friday.

Jonathan Davis, the lake's operations project manager, said lower levels have an impact on recreation. But as long as local residents are mindful of a watering ban that limits outdoor watering to odd-numbered addresses on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays and even-numbered homes Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, water supplies should not be affected to the point that they will be too diminished, he said.

The state declared a level one drought in June, indicating the least severe of drought conditions. Light rainfall and the Army Corps of Engineers' mistaken release of 22.5 billion gallons of water from the lake contributed to drought conditions in this area. Ongoing water wars between Georgia, Alabama and Florida exacerbate the issue.

But Frank Stephens, Gwinnett's director of water resources, said the county that has added more than 20,000 residents each year has remained steady in its use of water. And Terry Darragh, Barrow County's public works director, said that county is using less than half of its capacity in the Bear Creek Reservoir.

"Peak flow hasn't been as high as it was when the drought started," he said. "One day, we used 4 million gallons a day over a weekend. Normally, we're between two and a half and 3 million gallons a day."

The county is able to use as many as 8 million gallons daily from Bear Creek.

Stephens said the protracted drought that the area saw between 2000 and 2002 statistically comes only once every 100 years. Multi-year droughts remind residents to conserve water, he said, but it is always necessary.

"The truth is, it's important for us to conserve water all year round," he said.

Davis said normal rainfall, such as the state has seen the past two summers, puts water conservation in the background. As the drought continues, though, he said the lake has not seen a decrease in people using it as water levels have fallen.

Though some boat ramps are no longer usable and marinas have had to find deeper water, he said people have been finding new stretches of beach that lower water levels exposed and have been spending time camping.

"People still want to get to the water, even if they have to go a little further on the shoreline," he said. "It will never come to a complete halt. We've been lower than this before."