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WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2007
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Drought relief soon?
State expects more water restrictions

By Jay Reeves
Associated Press Writer

BIRMINGHAM — More than half of Alabama's 4.5 million residents already are living under water restrictions because of the choking dry weather, and officials said more cutbacks may be needed as the drought worsens through the fall.

Parts of the state had their first rainfall of the month Tuesday, but it was only a drop in the rain gauge compared to precipitation deficits of more than 2 feet in places.

"We are really going to need rainfall from November through February. We didn't get it last year ... and the long-term forecast is for below-average chances from Birmingham south," said state climatologist John Christy.

State officials say 38 community water systems have mandatory restrictions and another 96 have sought voluntary cutbacks on water use, and more water rules are likely, based on predictions for a dry fall and winter.

Feeling pinch

Water customers already are feeling the pinch statewide.

Gadsden's water board approved a $1-a-month bill increase to help pay for additional chemicals that officials said were needed because the drought has damaged water quality. The city draws water from the Coosa River, which is already a foot low and dropping because Georgia is holding more water for use there.

All nine members of Alabama's congressional delegation wrote Army Secretary Pete Green this week complaining that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was letting Georgia draw too much water from Lake Allatoona, which is located on the Coosa.

In Alexander City, officials plan to use a floating rig to pump water from Lake Martin, where normal intake pipes are in danger of being exposed by falling water levels. The cost was uncertain.

Cullman County's water system is considering a $117 million plan to construct 51 miles of pipe to draw water from the Tennessee River and distribute it around the county. General manager David Bussman said the price of water will have to go up.

"It has been cheap for a long time, but it's getting like gas," he said.

The Birmingham Water Works, which serves more than 600,000 customers in five counties, loosened water rules last month after mandatory restrictions saved about 30 million gallons a day during the summer. But officials say there is no guarantee the situation won't worsen again.

A spokesman for Gov. Bob Riley said the state lacks the authority to impose restrictions on local water systems, and gaining broader power is not an issue since communities have done a good job controlling water use.

"Since this whole drought has been going on that's what they have been doing," said Todd Stacy, deputy press secretary for Riley.

In Georgia, water supplies for metro Atlanta are being threatened by falling reservoir levels. Christy said Alabama's large cities are better off because Huntsville and Montgomery are both on rivers, Birmingham reduced usage months ago and Mobile has had more rain than the rest of the state.

Alabama also doesn't have anything even close to metro Atlanta, which has nearly twice the population of the entire state of Alabama. Officials in Georgia are considering mandatory cutbacks statewide.

"We're not as bad as the Atlanta area is, but we do have restrictions," said Dennis Block, interim director of the Alabama Water Resources Research Institute in Auburn.

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

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