Barrow's water supply dropping too low

WINDER - The water level of the Middle Oconee River, Barrow County's major water supply, has dropped so low water is no longer being taken from the river.

Instead, operators at the Bear Creek Reservoir are dipping into its reserve supply of water to satisfy the needs of Barrow, Athens-Clarke, Jackson and Oconee counties.

And it's only June.

The water on which residents and businesses of the four-county Upper Oconee Water Basin Authority depend is now being drained from the 500-acre pond at the Bear Creek Reservoir. The 4.8 billion gallons the pond holds in full pool is stored as reserve water for exceedingly dry times. So far, the reserve supply in the pond has dropped 1.2 feet.

Those dry times are upon us, although not an emergency situation just yet, water officials said.

Barrow County commissioners Tuesday declared the county in level 3 drought conditions and initiated new, one day per week watering restrictions that coincide with Winder's watering days to avoid confusion, commissioners said. Even-numbered addresses can water on Saturdays and odd-numbered addresses on Sundays.

On June 8, a pump at the 5-year-old Bear Creek Reservoir failed. That mechanical breakdown had no effect on the water supply, said Kevin Williams, Bear Creek Reservoir project manager.

"We have never been out of service," Williams said "We are still maintaining. It was a pump that pulls water from the reservoir to be treated. At this point, there is no cause for concern."

Jackson County has implemented a total ban on outdoor watering until the pump is fixed, said Stacey Jenkins, water services supervisor.

"I don't think a foot is too bad for this time of year, but we are doing our part to conserve," Jenkins said.

In April, Barrow County took 63 million gallons of water from the Middle Oconee River and 91 million gallons in May, said Myron Garrett, department director for the Barrow County Water Authority.

Five Barrow County entities depend on the Middle Oconee River and the Bear Creek Reservoir for water. Barrow County, Braselton and Winder water authorities all draw water from the Middle Oconee River or Bear Creek Reservoir.

In a pinch, Barrow County could buy up to 250,000 gallons of water per day from the city of Statham under a 1991 intergovernmental agreement.

"Right now, we have plenty of water, and hopefully with rain we will get through the summer fine. But if the drought goes on, we will get more concerned," said Terry Darraugh, Barrow County's Public Works Department director.