WEST POINT -- Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue ordered state agencies Wednesday to reduce water consumption immediately by 10 to 15 percent, a step designed to show the federal government that the state is taking action to conserve water during an epic drought.
The move, which comes a day after he ordered north Georgia public utilities to cut water use by 10 percent, is a not-so-subtle plea to encourage the federal government to help resolve the state's water crisis.
"We are further putting pressure on federal agencies by illustrating that Georgia is taking every possible step to conserve water," he said, standing near an exposed boat ramp on West Point Lake once covered by a dozen feet of water.
The location of the event, around the corner from the local Army Corps of Engineers office, was also meant to send a message.
The state last week sued the Corps, which manages regional water resources, demanding it send less water from Georgia lakes downstream to Florida and Alabama. The governor has also asked President Bush to declare the drought-stricken region a federal disaster area and order that the release of Georgia water be reduced.
Perdue said he's been in discussions with White House officials on the state's request, but that it's been "plain disheartening" that federal authorities have continued to operate the watershed using a "fatally flawed" plan.
Millions of gallons of water are sent daily from Georgia reservoirs downstream to Alabama and Florida to help run power plants and provide water for federally protected mussel species. The Corps said it's abiding by federal guidelines, and the neighboring states have bitterly contested any change in the water releases, intensifying a water fight among the three states that has lasted for almost two decades.
Perdue's order Wednesday bans the washing of state vehicles, the installation of new landscaping and power washing to clean state buildings. It also requires employees to probe state buildings for leaks.
"That means inmates, one quick shower. Fire trucks going unwashed. Entire departments using paper plates at least once a week," he said. "These are the kinds of innovative, creative things we can all do to conserve and that every person in the state needs to demonstrate as we pull through these difficult times."
Almost one-third of the Southeast is covered by an "exceptional" drought - the worst drought category. The Atlanta area, with a population of 5 million, is in the middle of the affected region, which includes most of Tennessee, Alabama and the northern half of Georgia, as well as parts of North and South Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia.
With a dry winter forecast and less than 80 days of stored water left in Lake Lanier, the north Georgia reservoir that supplies water to about 3 million residents, Perdue warned more problems could be on the way despite the storms hovering over parts of the state.
"We see the rain today in some parts of the state, and many Georgians might think we're heading toward relief," he said. "But I hate to tell you this bit of rain doesn't make a bit of difference. Under the Corps' nonsensical operating plan, we can't store excess rain water. It all gets flushed downstream."