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Relief not in sight
Expert: Water woes won't likely end soon

ATHENS - There is no end in sight for Georgia's historic drought, the state's climatologist said.

David Stooksbury said residents may be able to "muddle" through a winter expected to be warmer and drier than most, but that the water shortage will likely persist.

"There's a high probability that this time next year, we definitely could still be talking about the drought," he said. "My big concern is that we might not receive enough recharge (water) this winter to get us through next summer."

Thursday, Stooksbury said that even some wet periods through the winter might not be enough to refill reservoirs to pre-drought levels.

This winter is expected to be a La Nina season, which could bring less precipitation and warmer weather, causing any rain that does fall to evaporate more quickly, if La Nina is strong. A weak La Nina should mean increased rainfall.

Much of northeast Georgia is in an extreme drought, conditions that are expected just once in 100 years. Stooksbury said the drought began in March 2006, but that there was little residents could do to mitigate its effects before the situation became so dire.

The state has banned outdoor watering and is mired in lawsuits requesting that the Army Corps of Engineers reduce the amount of water it releases from Lake Lanier into the Chattahoochee River.

Stooksbury said river flows are at historic lows and soil moisture is lower than it should be. Rainfall has also stayed below typical levels for October, which is generally the driest month of the year.

"There's little hope for a major recovery through spring 2008," he said. "We can probably muddle through this winter through conservation, if we don't use as much water."

Stooksbury said Lake Lanier and other reservoirs do have access to water that would require more energy to make it potable. It is impossible to tell how long Lake Lanier's water would last, though, because that depends on how the lake is managed.

A dry winter, Stooksbury said, would mean that reserves are low going into what is expected to be a dry spring, as well.

"I hope I'm wrong," he said. "We could be in a dire situation a year from now."