3 things to know about the Ga. Wildfires and drought

Coming up to Thanksgiving,

Georgia Drought Response Declaration, Nov. 17, 2016

Georgia is in a tough situation. The week of Nov. 14 marked 24 straight weeks without rain in northwest Georgia – including Atlanta. Some streams are at their lowest point since the 2007 drought. This is putting a strain on the drinking water for the state as well as irrigation for agriculture both in Georgia and Florida (the issue of water use is now in the supreme court!)

Because of this drought, soil has dried up, plants have begun dying and the ground is covered in dry, dry leaves and brush. This has all contributed to a severe problem with wildfires in the north of the state as well as Tennessee and North Carolina. The smoke from these hundreds of fires has been smelled – and seen! – as far south at metro Atlanta and air quality alerts have been given to those with respiratory issues. Over 60,000 total acres of land have been burned in the state due to wildfires this year.

So what do you need to know and what can be done to help mitigate these problems? Lucky for you, we have some tips.

Conserve water

On Nov. 17, the Georgia EPD and the Governor’s office have placed restrictions on water usage due to the drought. Watering the lawn is prohibited more than twice a week. Even-numbered addresses may water Wednesday and Saturday between 4 p.m. and 10 a.m. Odd-numbered addresses may water Thursdays and Sundays, during the same times.

Here are some ways residents can save water:

  • Check and repair leaks inside and outside the home.
  • Shorten showers and turn off water when shaving or brushing teeth.
  • Only water plants and gardens when the sun is down (to reduce evaporative loss).
  • Fill dishwashers and washing machines. Make sure there is a full load every time.
  • Replace older toilets and shower heads with high efficiency models. If your home was built before 1993, you may qualify for a toilet rebate.
  • Choose efficient appliances. Look for EPA WaterSense and ENERGY STAR labeled products when shopping for new appliances and fixtures.
  • Scrape dishes before washing them. Avoid using the garbage disposal. It wastes a lot of water and can contribute to pipe clogs.

Find more conservation tips at My Drop Counts.

Only some watering is allowed

Most of the state is under water restrictions and burn bans. Prohibited outdoor water uses include:

  • Washing hard surfaces such as streets and sidewalks.
  • Water for ornamental purposes, such as fountains.
  • The use of fire hydrants, except for firefighting and public safety.
  • Non-commercial washing of vehicles.
  • Non-commercial pressure washing.
  • Fundraising car washes.

Commercial car washes tend to recycle their water, making them more water-efficient than home-based washing.

Allowed outdoor water uses include:

  • Irrigation of personal food gardens may be done at any time of day.
  • Irrigation of new and replanted plant, seed, or turf may be done at any time of day for 30 days after installation.
  • Drip irrigation or irrigation using soaker hoses may be done at any time of day and hand-watering with a hose with automatic cutoff or handheld container may be done at any time of day.
  • General landscape watering may be done between 4:00 p.m. and 10:00 a.m. on the designated days.

More water conservation information is available at Georgia EPD.

Beware of outdoor fires

Georgia Bay Complex fire
Georgia Bay Complex fire

The ground is very dry and even a small spark may set off a fire. Don’t make campfires or burn outdoors for any reason.

Some fires are good for the environment, says Tom Howick, Director of Education at CNC.

“Fires are a natural occurrence in forests through lightening,” he said. “Fire can help clean out the forest leaf litter that builds up on the forest floor.”

He said the occasional fire will actually help some species of plants and trees and it encourages new growth, although it will force wild animals out of their habitat.

However, when fires get too big and begin encroaching on populated areas of property, they need to be contained.

“No one wants a forest fire close to their property, burning their home down,” Howick said.

With the ground so dry, these fires can start anywhere and anytime. A campfire not properly put out or even a cigarette tossed from a car may start a large fire.

If you see smoke of fire anywhere it shouldn’t be – woods, lawns, near your home – call 911 and report it.

For updates on the Georgia wildfires and their containment, visit the Georgia Forestry Commission.

The Mission of the Chattahoochee Nature Center is to connect people with nature. Learn more at www.chattnaturecenter.org.