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Lumpkin County to hold open house about drought
Officials say don't halt development to save water
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Lumpkin County officials want to have a heart-to-heart talk with residents about water.

Tuesday afternoon, the city of Dahlonega and the Lumpkin County Water & Sewerage Authority will collaborate on a "Drought Dialogue with the Community."

The event is scheduled for 3 to 7 p.m. at the Lumpkin County Parks and Recreation Community Center on Riley Road in Dahlonega.

Dudley Owens, director of the water authority, said it’s an open house, not a formal meeting.

"We’ve designed this to avoid the lectern and the PowerPoint presentation," he said. "People can drop by at their convenience, and we’ll talk to them one-on-one."

Owens said his goal is "to build a comfort level in the community so they know that we are managing the drought properly. There’s a lot of misinformation floating around, and some people are panicking."

He’s referring to statements made by some Lumpkin residents in local media, alleging that the county’s wells are running dry and the city of Dahlonega is running out of water.

"We want people to be informed personally and get the facts," Owens said. "The truth is, the community has had a few springs and a few bored wells go dry, which is typical in a drought. But all of the drilled wells are OK."

The water authority serves about 1,100 customers in unincorporated Lumpkin. Owens said the agency has 15 wells and also buys water from the city of Dahlonega, which withdraws its water from Yahoola Creek.

Dahlonega City Manager Bill Lewis said the city has about 2,300 water customers, and many are alarmed because they’ve seen the Yahoola Creek Reservoir drop 11 feet. But he said they don’t understand where their drinking water comes from.

"We don’t have a permit to withdraw water from the reservoir, and we can’t get one until we build a treatment plant," he said. "So our water supply has no relationship to what people are seeing at the reservoir. It could be completely drained and we would still be able to pull water out of the creek."

Lewis said Tuesday’s open house will have six tables featuring charts and graphs on different topics, with city and county officials on hand to answer questions.

Topics will include the impact of the drought on Georgia and on the community, what local officials are doing to manage it and what residents can do to help. There will also be a table where people can offer comments and suggestions, and a special booth for homeowners who are on private wells.

Owens said many residents were already practicing water conservation before Georgia declared Level 4 drought restrictions, which include a complete ban on outdoor watering. And he believes Lumpkin has already met the 10 percent reduction in water withdrawals that Gov. Sonny Perdue called for last week.

"Our customers have responded to our request to cut down on water use, even before the governor asked," Owens said.

Lewis said he can see the change reflected in customers’ water bills.

"Our usage is down about 100,000 gallons a day, due both to compliance with restrictions and also to cooler weather," he said.

Owens said Lumpkin is fortunate to not have any large, water-intensive industries.

"Most of our customers are either residential or restaurants," he said. "That’s why it’s important to talk to people about what they can do personally to conserve water."

Owens disagrees with those who believe Lumpkin should conserve water by placing a moratorium on new subdivisions.

"Stopping development is unnecessary and would cause economic chaos," he said. "Many of our residents are contractors and make their living in the construction business."

Lewis expects this is an issue that people will have questions about at the open house, and he welcomes the opportunity to set the record straight.

"A few people in Lumpkin County have been using this drought to promote their own agenda," he said. "They’ve been spreading all this hype that has no truth to it."

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