Drought is a slow-moving natural disaster that tends to emerge under the radar screen. Then it intensifies until we can no longer ignore it or wish it away. When drought ends, we are often glad to forget about it and to resume business as usual. Although we can appreciate the return to normal, we need to stop and learn from our experiences.
Climatology shows that drought will happen again. What is the biggest lesson we have learned from the recent droughts?
Water efficiency makes Athens more resilient.
Most people don’t realize the drought that just ended was, in some ways, more severe than the unforgettable drought of 2007-2008. River levels in the Oconee River and many places around Georgia hit record lows. The nearby City of Toccoa had a rainfall deficit of 25 inches from May 2011 to April 2012, the largest in 134 years of data collection. Here in Athens we had a rainfall deficit of 17 inches from May 2011 to April 2012. The deficit from May 2007 to 2008 was “only” 14 inches.
The memorable 2007-2008 drought made residents, businesses, UGA, and industries more aware of their water use. Many adopted water-efficient habits and technologies that are still in effect today. As a result, we were able to make it through this recent record-setting drought without complete outdoor watering bans. Maintaining our water-efficient habits during non-drought periods makes us more resilient to the impacts of drought.
According to the National Weather Service, Athens had more than 9 inches of rain in July. That is more than double the 30 year average for July! As a result of this wet weather, the drought has lifted and the Outdoor Water Use Schedule had changed. Athenians are now allowed to run their sprinklers any day of the week, but never between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM. (The hourly restriction is part of Georgia’s statewide Non-Drought Outdoor Water Use Schedule that went into effect in June of 2010.)
You can now water every day! But remember, you don’t need to. Inefficient watering can waste both water and money, and is a bad habit that you will have to break during the next inevitable drought. Breaking bad habits is much harder than keeping up with good habits. You can make it easy on yourself by installing drip irrigation, planting the right plants in the right places, limiting turfgrass, adding mulch, and, if your irrigation system uses a clock time, upgrading to a WaterSense labeled controller. All of these things make your yard water-efficient, which results in saving water and money, and makes your landscape and our community more drought resilient.
-Marilyn Hall (August 13, 2013)