MOUNTAIN CITY — It’s a law of physics: Water runs downhill.
That explains why water is scarce on 3,640-foot Black Rock Mountain, where Georgia’s highest state park is located.
The 48-site campground has been without water for about seven weeks. Anthony Lampros, manager of Black Rock Mountain State Park, knew what was coming as he watched the park’s spring and well dwindle throughout the summer.
"The handwriting was on the wall," he said. "This has happened before in other droughts."
This time, the staff had a contingency plan. What little water that remained would be used exclusively for the park’s 10 rental cottages.
Even the visitor center’s rest rooms have been closed, and portable toilets have been set up.
"You can operate a campground without water, but you absolutely have to have water for cabins," Lampros said. "Also, the people in the cottages made their reservations a full year ago and had quite a financial investment in it."
Black Rock Mountain is one of Georgia’s best vantage points for viewing fall foliage, and its cottages are highly coveted during October and November. The campground also usually books up well in advance.
"Our reservation service called all the people who had made campground reservations and notified them about the water situation," said Lampros. "Those who decided they did not want to come to Black Rock Mountain were either transferred to other campgrounds or were given full refunds."
He said about 15 to 20 percent of people cancelled their reservations. "This is our busiest time of year, and it’s definitely hurt us," he said. "But campers are a pretty hardy breed."
On Monday, Lampros said, the park will start test-drilling for a new well.
"We don’t know if it will hit water, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed," he said. "Even if we get a new well, it won’t help us this season. But we need a more reliable source of water for the future."
None of Northeast Georgia’s other parks are in such dire straits. But all of them must comply with Gov. Perdue’s mandate that state facilities reduce their water use by 10 to 15 percent.
"We’re OK," said Bill Tanner, manager of Amicalola Falls State Park near Dawsonville. "The park is served by two wells, and that has been adequate to serve our needs."
But the Department of Natural Resources has been asked to take the lead on water conservation, so Tanner knows he has to do better. He’s planning to switch to low-flow plumbing fixtures at the 24-site campground and in most of the 56 rooms in Amicalola Lodge. Also, motion-sensing faucets and toilets will be installed in the public rest rooms.
But Tanner regrets the "unfortunate timing" of the outdoor watering ban. "We just recently had a nice project paid for by our Friends of the Park group," he said. "They removed non-native species of shrubs and flowers around the visitor center and replaced them with native species."
To prevent the new plants from dying, he said, volunteers have been bringing in used water from their own bathrooms and kitchens.
Just outside of Amicalola, one of Georgia’s most environmentally friendly lodges is emphasizing conservation now more than ever.
"We’re asking guests to take one shower per visit, lasting no longer than seven minutes," said Sandy Straw, a naturalist at the Len Foote Hike Inn.
The 20-room inn, accessible only by foot via a 5-mile trail that starts near Amicalola Falls, has won awards for its sustainable building.
"We already have waterless, composting toilets that save 200,000 gallons a year," Straw said. "But laundry is our biggest source of water use."
To reduce trash, the inn’s dining hall uses cloth napkins rather than paper. Straw said they are cutting down on water use by buying more cloth napkins. "That way, we don’t have to run the washing machine when we don’t have a full load," she said.
The inn, which uses well water, also catches rainwater in a barrel to water native plants around the lodge. And timers have just been installed in the showers, so guests know when they have exceeded the recommended time limit.
At Vogel State Park near Blairsville, manager David Foot said the well is in good shape. "But we are not doing any pressure washing in the park to clean anything, and we’re asking campers not to wash their vehicles."
Foot said the availability of water around 4,458-foot Blood Mountain is hit-or-miss.
"We’re in the Tennessee Valley watershed, on the north side of the mountain," he said. "Water south of Blood Mountain flows into the Chattahoochee River watershed, and some of those wells are running dry."
At Tallulah Gorge State Park in Habersham County, interpretive ranger Garrett Chism said the visitor center and campground have an adequate supply of water. But it’s been a disappointing season for kayakers.
"Georgia Power has cancelled the aesthetic and recreational releases (of the Tallulah River) from the dam, because not enough water is coming into Lake Burton," he said.
"Kayakers come from all over the United States to run the Tallulah, so it’s really affected them."