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Humberto's rains don't ease drought

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Rains from the remnants of Hurricane Humberto did not provide relief for the drought that has dropped lake levels to near record lows in Alabama and jeopardized its river system as it gets less water from a key Georgia lake, a federal official said Wednesday.

Col. Byron Jorns, district commander of the U.S. Corps of Engineers in Mobile, told a weekly drought task force teleconference that rains from Humberto last week provided only temporary help in Alabama and Georgia, where the Corps plans to cut the water flow from Altoona Lake, which feeds into Alabama rivers.

Alabama Power Co. spokesman Michael Sznajderman said in an interview later that the reduction of water from Altoona Lake would cut the flow of water coming into the Coosa, Tallapoosa and Alabama rivers by about a third. He said it could force Alabama Power to reduce the flow of water to the Alabama River, but said that would not happen until an important dredging project is completed.

"The fact of the matter is we have to preserve water. Municipal water systems draw from our lakes. We don't even know if we will be able to fill the lakes again next spring," Sznajderman said.

Charles Stover of Alabama Power told the teleconference that if there continues to be a shortage of rain, the situation could become dire on Alabama lakes, which are currently below the level seen during winter months, when water levels are lowered because of winter and spring rains. He said there is concern the drought could continue into next year.

But the continuing drought and plans by the Corps of Engineers to cut the flow of water from Altoona Lake near Atlanta will not stop the dredging operation currently under way on the Alabama Rive to open the river to barge traffic south of Montgomery.

Dredging cut back

Jerry Sailors, executive director for the Coosa Alabama River Improvement Association, said Wednesday the dredging project has been cut back so that only a 100-foot wide area is being dredged rather than a 150-foot wide area, as originally planned.

Sailors said cutting back on the width of the dredging would not prevent barges from being able to use the river, but would allow the project to be completed despite the drought.

The river was last dredged in 2005 and has been closed to barge traffic for more than five months.

Meanwhile, state officials are watching a low pressure system over Florida that is expected to develop into a tropical depression or storm over the Gulf of Mexico later in the week.

During the teleconference Wednesday, officials said they expect mostly dry weather to continue through the rest of the week.

National Weather Service meteorologist Michael Garrison said it's too early to say whether the low pressure system would end up providing much needed rain across Alabama.

"It's too early to tell if it will be a rain event for Alabama. But wherever it goes it's going to produce rainfall," Garrison said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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