Tensions rise as American drought
worsens, threatens to spread
Jun. 18, 2007 04:54 PM
ATLANTA - North and South Carolina are fighting over a
river. In Tennessee, springs are drying up, jeopardizing
production of Jack Daniels whiskey. The mayor of Los
Angeles is asking residents to take shorter showers. And
in Georgia, the governor is praying for rain.
More than a third of the United States is in the grip of
a menacing drought that threatens to spread before the
While much of the West has experienced drought conditions
for close to a decade, the latest system is centered over
Alabama and extends to much of the Southeast, heavily
affecting Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi,
Tennessee, North and South Carolina and Virginia as well
as parts of Arkansas and West Virginia.
Parts of Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee are
experiencing a level D4 drought, the most extreme level
charted and the worst in the nation. Severe drought
conditions are moving north, into Kentucky and closer to
the Midwest."It's one of the worst droughts in
living memory in the Southeast at this point," said
Doug LeComte, a drought specialist with the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "This
happens only about every 50 years or so."
The severe conditions have forced cities to establish
tough water restrictions, basically banning everything
from watering lawns on weekdays to wiping out summertime
rituals such as cooling off children with water hoses.As
lawns turn brown and tempers flare under the sweltering
heat, neighbors are snitching on one another, turning in
those whose lawns appear too green. And officials in some
cities are dealing with those perpetrators by imposing
hefty fines, turning off water service to homes and
throwing chronic abusers into jail.In Columbia County,
Ga., near Augusta, officials are receiving at least a
half-dozen calls a day from people turning in their
neighbors. So far they have turned off water to 50 homes
that violated the water ban at least three times.
Wellington, Fla., has issued more than 2,000 citations,
with fines ranging from $75 to $250 for repeat offenders.
The Birmingham, Ala., area has some of the toughest
repercussions for those who ignore its ban on using lawn
sprinklers or decide to wash their cars in driveways.
Residents are being told to use hand sprayers or fill
buckets to water their flowers and grass. In the city of
Birmingham, violators face hefty surcharges for using
more than the allotted amount of water.In Atlanta, where
rapid growth is contributing to the water shortage,
outdoor water use is banned during the week. In suburban
Forsyth County, violators can receive up to a $1,000 in
fines and up to 60 days in jail for the second violation.
The fire chief in suburban Roswell, Ga., is considering
banning Fourth of July fireworks in that city, fearing
that a spark could ignite fires.
Extreme drought in at least 95 Georgia counties has hurt
the state's $54 billion agricultural industry. Officials
said farmers throughout the South are being hit hard,
with losses to cotton, peanuts and corn.Farmers in
California, Kentucky and Alabama are selling their herds
because a shortage of hay to feed them."Farmers are
reporting nothing but dust. It's dire straits,"
Jerry Hamilton, the distillery plant manager for Jack
Daniels in Lynchburg, Tenn., told the Associated Press
recently that the stream that supplies iron-free water
for its whiskey recipe was flowing about one-third to
one-half its normal rate. Officials said the distillery
is conserving the water from Cave Springs, which has been
used for 140 years, using it only for whiskey.
South Carolina and North Carolina are battling over the
Catawba River, which provides drinking water and
electricity for the two states. South Carolina has filed
a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to ban a
plan by two suburbs of Charlotte to pump up to 10 million
gallons of water a day from the river.Unless a resolution
is found quickly, the states could end up in a water war
like the one involving Georgia, Alabama and Florida.
Those states have been embroiled in a court battle over
how to share the water in the Chattahoochee River for 16
Experts blame the Southeast's drought on a persistent
high-pressure system that has kept rain away from the
area. In California, an abnormally dry winter is the
Americans use an average of 100 gallons of water a day,
and they're being urged to cut their demand to put less
pressure on the supply.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa wants residents to
reduce their water use by 10 percent through small
changes, such as taking shorter showers and sweeping
sidewalks instead of spraying them down.People will have
to learn to conserve or pay a price in the future,
"This is a reminder that these major droughts can
happen anywhere," he said. "Whether this is a
trend or not, it will make people rethink their use of
this valuable resource and realize that it is not