ATLANTA - The Environmental Protection Division issued a Level 2 drought response for parts of Georgia on Thursday.
The metro Atlanta area has gone 31 days without measurable rain. More than 22 percent of the state is now under an exceptional drought, which is the highest level, and more than 52 percent is in an extreme drought.
"There's areas of the state that haven't seen rainfall since early September," EPD Director Richard Dunn said.
A Level 2 drought response limits outdoor watering to two days a week on an odd-even schedule. Even-numbered addresses may water Wednesdays and Saturdays (4 p.m. to 10 a.m.). Odd-numbered addresses may water Thursdays and Sundays (4 p.m. to 10 a.m.). No water is allowed to be used for outdoor fountains, car washes or power washing of homes.
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"In the past eight weeks, conditions have rapidly deteriorated," Dunn said.
Dunn said with no significant rain in the forecast, the restrictions will stay in place for a while.
"There is no specific trigger. There is no one piece of data that will tilt it. Again, we look at all the aggregate and determine and make the appropriate decision for the appropriate time," he said.
The Level 2 response is in effect for 52 counties. A Level 1 response is in effect for an additional 58 counties.
"We urge these communities to act accordingly, use good judgment and avoid outdoor burning and watering while we continue to work with the EPD and pray for rain across the state," Gov. Nathan Deal said.
(1/3) I have approved a Level 2 Drought Response designation for 52 counties and a Level 1 designation for an additional 58 counties. pic.twitter.com/5C2biGaBvI— Governor Nathan Deal (@GovernorDeal) November 17, 2016
Dunn says local water authorities can also impose a water surcharge for high-use customers.
"The idea is to try and reduce consumption," Dunn said.
Atlanta watershed officials have implemented a new rule to lower water consumption.
“We're asking our restaurants to only serve water to customers who request it,” spokesperson Lillian Govus said.
The city of Atlanta is also working to reduce its backlog of water leaks; they've admitted they haven't been able to keep up with the volume.
"We've actually implemented a contractor to put in additional crews to deal with that backlog so that we, too, are being good stewards of our water," Govus said.
Atlanta residents can also stop by any fire department for a free water-saver kit.
Gov. Deal: 'I'm very concerned'
Gov. Nathan Deal said he's never seen wildfires burning in Georgia like we're all seeing across north Georgia.
The wildfires stretch across the state from Rabun County to Dade County, and then down to Gordon County.
“I'm very concerned. I don't remember any such wildfires that I can recall at all. Those are always things that we think about out in the west,” Deal told Channel 2’s Richard Elliot.
Those wildfires have consumed nearly 30,000 acres of forests, and with the lack of rain, there's no relief in sight.
That's why Thursday afternoon, Deal declared a Level 2 drought in 52 north Georgia.
“We can always go to a higher level of drought restrictions. We believe for right now this is sufficient. We're all, of course, praying for rain, and that will really be the only thing that will relieve us in the long term,” Deal said.
Deal praised the work of state and federal forestry firefighters, along with the Department of Natural Resources rangers in battling the blaze.
He said the state is not at the point yet to ask the federal government for an emergency declaration.
“We believe that right now, we have the resources that we need, but if it gets worse, then of course, we'll need additional help,” Deal told Elliot.
The governor's office is closely monitoring both the wildfires and the drought conditions. He also thanked out-of-state fire crews for their help.
Smoky conditions continue
A wind shift Thursday will bring winds from the south and southwest, pushing some of the smoke out of the metro area later in the day. That will continue Friday. On Saturday, a strong front, with winds up to 30 mph, will bring the smoke back to the metro area. By Monday, temperatures in the metro area will dip into the low 30’s.
Severe Weather Team 2 Meteorologist Karen Minton says no significant rain is in the forecast for the next seven days.
Wind shift today should clear much of the smoke from metro ATL. Saturday's cold front brings smoke in again. pic.twitter.com/ux6WsAZQQA— Karen Minton (@KarenMintonWSB) November 17, 2016
List of counties affected by drought restrictions
Those counties assigned a Level 2 Drought Response are: Banks, Barrow, Bartow, Butts, Carroll, Catoosa, Chattooga, Cherokee, Athens-Clarke, Clayton, Cobb, Coweta, Dade, Dawson, DeKalb, Douglas, Fannin, Fayette, Floyd, Forsyth, Fulton, Gilmer, Gordon, Gwinnett, Habersham, Hall, Haralson, Harris, Heard, Henry, Jackson, Lamar, Lumpkin, Meriwether, Monroe, Morgan, Murray, Newton, Oconee, Paulding, Pickens, Pike, Polk, Rockdale, Spalding, Troup, Union, Upson, Walker, Walton, White and Whitfield.
The additional counties assigned a Level 1 Drought Response are: Baker, Baldwin, Bibb, Bleckley, Calhoun, Chattahoochee, Clay, Columbia, Crawford, Crisp, Decatur, Dooly, Dougherty, Early, Elbert, Franklin, Glascock, Greene, Hancock, Hart, Houston, Jasper, Jefferson, Jones, Laurens, Lee, Lincoln, Macon, Madison, Marion, McDuffie, Miller, Mitchell, Muscogee, Oglethorpe, Peach, Pulaski, Putnam, Quitman, Rabun, Randolph, Richmond, Schley, Seminole, Stephens, Stewart, Sumter, Talbot, Taliaferro, Taylor, Terrell, Towns, Twiggs, Warren, Washington, Webster, Wilkes and Wilkinson.
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