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Football: Water restrictions leave fields dry
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At the Atlanta Falcons complex in Flowery Branch, the practice fields are as lush and green as ever, showing few signs of the drought that is ravaging lawns across Northeast Georgia. Just across the street, a distance of just a few football fields away, Flowery Branch High’s Falcon Field tells a different story.

The grass there is withering, brown and dying — if not already dead.

"The middle of the field is basically sand," Flowery Branch coach Lee Shaw said. "(Even after a hard freeze) we usually have bare spots, but we have some grass, even if there’s not much.

"The middle section of our field is getting to where there’s no grass at all."

Shaw and his Falcons aren’t alone. Hall County’s total outdoor watering ban, which went into effect Sept. 28, has left high schools across the county in a similar state. With relatively limited resources, there’s not much high school coaches can do but watch the turf dry up and hope that it doesn’t greatly impact the games or endanger the athletes.

Colleges are feeling the effect of the parched earth, too. But at Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia there are more avenues for recourse. In Atlanta, officials have found a way to turn a festering nuisance under Bobby Dodd Stadium into a solution to its ongoing water shortage.

"The field is surviving; it’s stressed, but it’s hanging in there," said Wayne Hogan, associate athletic director for external relations at Georgia Tech. "The good thing is we recently devised a way to capture water from an underground spring and divert it for use on the field."

With the help of Ragan Enterprises, an engineering firm owned and operated by a Georgia Tech grad, the school is now using the spring water to irrigate the football field.

"(The spring) was an issue that has caused tremendous consternation," Hogan said. "It had been tearing away at the foundation under the southeast corner of Bobby Dodd Stadium."

Now, after more than two months of work, the water is being redirected to seven 1,500-gallon holding tanks and back into the stadium’s irrigation system.

"It just became operational late last week after the Virginia Tech game," Hogan said. "That’s 7,000 gallons of water per day that are now being saved."

The University of Georgia, like the Atlanta Falcons, has leaned on its on-site retention pond to help weather the drought, but even that hasn’t been quite enough. Both Georgia and the Falcons have seen their irrigation ponds drop to nearly unusable levels and have cut back on watering.

Arthur Johnson, University of Georgia associate athletics director of internal operations, said the school is receiving shipments of water for Sanford Stadium, but the practice fields haven’t been watered at all.

"They’re brown, and very hard," Johnson said. "Sanford Stadium is being watered a couple of days a week, and that’s limited the team’s use of the field."

The Falcons facilities seem to be in the best shape, but even their grounds crew is worried about what the future holds.

Jim Hewitt, the Falcons’ head groundskeeper said he’s extended pipes an extra 30 feet into the retention pond and has cut watering to one-third of the recommended level.

"At this point you can’t really tell that (the practice fields) are any drier that usual," Hewitt said, "but we’re almost out of water ourselves.

"Other than rain, there’s really no recourse — just pray," he added. "If the whole thing goes to pieces we’ve always got the indoor facility with the same surface that we play on in the Georgia Dome."

No such luck for area high school teams.

"I feel bad for those guys," Hewitt said.

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