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Forum on drought to offer information
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A public meeting is scheduled Tuesday night to help people understand and cope with Georgia’s drought. But if you want to sound off about who’s to blame for Lake Lanier’s record low level, you’re better off writing a letter to the editor.

"The focus is on giving out information and letting the public know where things stand," said Peter Gordon, education director at Elachee Nature Science Center. "We wanted to limit the panel to people who can give the unvarnished facts without getting up on a soapbox."

The Drought Management Forum, set for 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the Georgia Mountains Center, is sponsored by Keep Hall Beautiful along with Elachee and the Hall County Cooperative Extension Service.

Gordon said organizers quickly pulled together the event because the drought is such a hot topic.

"I think interest is at a high point right now," he said. "It’s an emotional issue. Water means so much to this community, for a variety of reasons."

What Gordon wants people to learn is that drought management is not a crisis mode but a way of life.

"The community needs to come to grips with the fact that this is the way it’s going to be from now on," he said. "Even when we do start getting normal rains again, we will always have a water problem. Hopefully we can create the mindset that this is going to be a long-term challenge for us as a community, as a state, as a region."

Rick Foote, who serves on Keep Hall Beautiful’s board of directors, said the event is not a workshop. Attendees will not, for example, be given specifications on how to build a rain barrel.

"But down the road, we want to do a water ‘festival’ or ‘fair,’ with a variety of different workshops," he said.

Foote said Tuesday’s meeting will attempt to answer practical, nuts-and-bolts questions. "Such as, ‘How does the drought impact my private water well? How many days of water are really left in the lake?’"

The meeting will begin with Chris Semerjian of Gainesville State College’s Institute for Environmental and Spatial Analysis giving a GIS presentation on Lake Lanier’s watershed.

"He’ll show why this is not just a drought problem, it’s a structural problem (because of the small size of the watershed)," Gordon said.

After that, there will be a succession of speakers from local, state and federal agencies. Gordon said each panelist will speak for five or 10 minutes, then take questions.

The lineup includes Jonathan Davis, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Buford Dam; Jeff Fleming of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; Tim Cash of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division; Kelly Randall, director of Gainesville Public Utilities; and Doug Derrer, director of Hall County Public Works.

There will also be several exhibit booths, including one about Gainesville’s rebate program for customers who switch to low-flow plumbing fixtures.

"The city is very interested in getting the word out about the rebates," Foote said.

Participants will also be given a list of water-conserving tips and resources.

Over the past few weeks there have been a number of drought-related meetings in Northeast Georgia, but Gordon said some of those forums turned into shouting matches and those who attended did not receive much useful information. He said this meeting will have a moderator who will try to keep people from going off on a tangent.

"If folks have an ax to grind, this is not the event for them," he said.

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