Georgia drought conditions have caused local reserves to be a foot below normal levels, according to Athens-Clarke County officials.
Athens-Clarke County usually uses water from either the North Oconee or Middle Oconee Rivers. But the drought, which is nearing its second year, has left the rivers in a state too low to pull from. The city now gets its water from Bear Creek Reservoir, where the supply is slowly being depleted as well.
"As of yesterday, it was a foot low," said Marilyn Hall, water conservation coordinator for Athens-Clarke County. "We can expect it to keep going down, especially because of the heat. The water in that reservoir is from the Middle Oconee River and it's been pumped. It could decline steadily all summer."
David Stooksbury, an associate professor of biological and agricultural engineering at the University of Georgia, said the Middle Oconee River is the lowest it has been in almost 80 years. The river was last recorded as producing 39 cubic feet per second. The river must be at 44 cubic feet per second for the city to pull from it.
"In 79 years of data, we've never seen the mid-Oconee River lower than it is currently for this time of year," he said. "It's lower than it was in 2007, and 2007 was the heart of when the last drought occurred. The record was actually set last on 1988, and it was 51 cubic feet per second. It's significantly lower than that now."
Stooksbury said this year's drought is in the neutral phase, meaning that while it is uncertain whether Georgia will break out of its drought, conditions are not enough to cause droughts.
"We can be cautiously optimistic that it will break this winter," he said. "But short of a tropical depression of some ilk, we're kinda in a precarious situation right now."
Both Stooksbury and Hall said it was important, given the circumstances, for citizens to continue using water conservation tactics, such as only watering their lawns during appropriate times and taking shorter showers. Hall also said that although the river is lower than it was in 2007, conservation efforts are more effective.
"People are using less water so the water will go down slower," she said. "If everyone continues to conserve the way we've been doing, we should be fine. Most people know how to conserve water, they just have to think about. There's some bigger things that people can do. If you have an old toilet dating before 1992, you could replace it because new toilets use about 1.28 gallons and the old toilets use about 4 gallons."
For more information, Athens residents can follow local water conservation efforts on the county's new Twitter feed — ACCWaterWarrior.