By Kelli Hernandez
VALDOSTA — Counties throughout Southeast and South-central Georgia are experiencing extreme drought conditions, and area farmers are feeling the negative impact. Continuing weeks of little or no rain and rising temperatures have led to worsening conditions statewide, according to the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Extreme drought conditions are defined as those conditions which are expected to occur only once every 50 years based on multiple indicators including rainfall over the past one, three, six and 12 months, soil moisture, stream flow and groundwater levels.
Deficits throughout the state for Jan. 1 through April 23 include Athens at 4.73 inches, Augusta 4.87, Columbus 5.04, Savannah 6.17, Macon 6.71, Plains 7.19, Brunswick 7.48, Tiger 8.64, Alma 9.09, Tifton 9.78, Blairsville 10.81 and LaFayette 12.22, according to UGA. Lowndes County is on the higher end of that scale with a current deficit of 9 inches, according to Mickey Fourakers, coordinator of the UGA Cooperative Extension of Lowndes County. This number, however, is in addition to a deficit carried over from the previous year, which has led to a compounding drought.
“March was very dry, and it’s historically a very wet month in Georgia,” state climatologist David Stooksbury said. “That’s one of the reasons we’re in trouble now.”
Fourakers noted that area farmers are experiencing difficulty due to the lack of moisture in the soil. Georgia is one of the top cotton, peanut and pecan producing states.
Many cotton and peanut farmers tried to wait for moisture before planting crops, and the dry soil is making the process of transplanting vegetables difficult. Unfortunately, little if any relief from the drought is anticipated in the foreseeable future. Less than one half inch of rain in South-central Georgia since March 1 has left soil too dry to prepare to plant any row crops, and drought conditions are only worsening.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported soil moisture conditions rated at 21 percent very short, 40 percent short, 37 percent adequate and two percent surplus for the week ending April 23 throughout the state. The same week in 2006 experienced similar conditions with soil moisture ratings at 15 percent very short, 38 percent short, 43 percent adequate and 4 percent surplus. UGA noted that rural communities will be the most drastically affected if the drought develops into a full-scale summer crop growing season drought.
If the state has normal weather through the summer, the soils will continue to dry out, and stream flows and groundwater levels will continue to decrease. Water levels in reservoirs and farm ponds are expected to continue to lower over the next several months.
“Every area of Georgia has been in a persistent and progressive drought condition since last June,” Georgia Environmental Protection Division Director Carol Couch said. “It’s important that we take steps now to prepare for the warm, typically dry summer months.”
The U.S. Geological Survey reported daily record-low flows for Monday for rivers throughout the south, including the Ochlockonee River near Thomasville, the Alapaha near Alapaha and at Statenville, the Suwannee at Fargo and the Satilla near Waycross and at Atkinson.
Couch declared a Level 2 drought response across the state April 18 and will require all Georgians to follow a more stringent outdoor water use schedule. Level 2 drought response declarations limit outdoor water use to mornings only. The declaration was made following a meeting of the State Drought Response Committee, which includes representatives from several state, federal and local agencies as well as universities and non-government organizations.
The new outdoor watering schedules restrict odd-numbered addresses to watering on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and even-numbered and unnumbered addresses to watering on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Watering can only be done between the hours of midnight and 10 a.m. and no watering is permitted on Fridays.
Both the city and the county are enforcing the state’s recommendations for watering. City and county officials are strictly enforcing these water restrictions and violators may be fined up to $200 and reconnection fees for non-compliance.
Updated drought information can be found at www.georgiadrought.org/.
Valdosta-Lowndes County Watering Schedules
Odd-numbered addresses may water: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays
Even-numbered addresses may water: Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays
No watering is permitted Fridays, and all watering must be done between the hours of midnight and 10 a.m.