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Easing drought may mean rule changes on water use, docks
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Water use and lake recreation could begin to return to normal as Georgia appears to be pulling out of a two-year drought.

The state’s drought response committee will meet at 10 a.m. today in Atlanta in which State Environmental Protection Director Carol Couch and Climatologist David Stooksbury will discuss the current drought condition and outdoor water use restrictions, according to a news release from EPD.

Couch has convened a meeting of the drought response committee a handful of times during the past couple of years since the state has been experiencing the drought, EPD spokesman Kevin Chambers said.

Today, Stooksbury will brief the committee on the changing drought conditions in Northeast Georgia. Couch likely will make a determination of what to do with the area’s watering restrictions, whether that be to keep them the same, make them more stringent or to relax them, Chambers said.

EPD eased the outdoor water ban a bit in April, allowing municipal water users in the 55-county Level 4 drought response area to water shrubs, trees and flower beds up to three days a week using drip irrigation systems and soaker hoses. The Level 4 area includes Hall and all of the contiguous counties.

Odd-numbered addresses may water on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Even-numbered and unnumbered addresses may water on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

While much of the state was in "exceptional" drought when an outdoor watering ban was instituted two years ago, the U.S. Drought Monitor shows that only the Lake Lanier basin remains "abnormally dry" as of June 2.

Above-normal rainfall so far this year has helped refill the lake, which was at 1,066.67 feet as of late Tuesday afternoon. The last time Lanier was at full pool of 1,071 feet was Sept. 6, 2005.

Following today’s EPD committee meeting, Gov. Sonny Perdue and Couch will hold a news conference at the Governor’s Mansion to discuss drought levels and unveil a new water-efficient irrigation system that has been installed at the mansion.

With water levels on the rise and predicted to remain stable for the near future, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile, Ala., District, expects to soon lift the moratorium on new dock permits.

The corps "will shortly announce the procedure for accepting new permit requests," spokesman E. Patrick Robbins said Tuesday.

In April 2007, the corps announced it wouldn’t accept new applications for private boat dock permits. The Lake Lanier Shoreline Management Plan and accompanying Environmental Impact Statement completed in 2004 limited the number of boat docks on the lake to 10,615.

The dock moratorium was put into place because of low lake levels. A two-year drought drained the lake to its lowest level ever, 1,050.79 feet, on Dec. 26, 2007. Permit applications received before the moratorium were processed, however.

After "issuing permits to those who qualified, Lake Lanier now has about 174 remaining boat dock permits available," Robbins said.

"The corps will set up a process that will give everyone an equal opportunity to submit their request in a simple way," according to a news release from the corps.

The corps has said the hold would remain until Lanier remains at or above 1,064 feet above sea level for 30 consecutive days and the five-week forecast "shows the level or rise is sustainable."