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Keywords:

  • drought;
  • climatology;
  • water use;
  • surface water supply;
  • water policy;
  • Georgia

Campana, Pete, John Knox, Andrew Grundstein, and John Dowd, 2012. The 2007-2009 Drought in Athens, Georgia, United States: A Climatological Analysis and an Assessment of Future Water Availability. Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA) 48(2): 379-390. DOI: 10.1111/j.1752-1688.2011.00619.x

Abstract:  Population growth and development in many regions of the world increase the demand for water and vulnerability to water shortages. Our research provides a case study of how population growth can augment the severity of a drought. During 2007-2009, a drought event that caused extreme societal impacts occurred in the Athens, Georgia region (defined as Clarke, Barrow, Oconee, and Jackson counties). An examination of drought indices and precipitation records indicates that conditions were severe, but not worse than during the 1925-1927, 1954-1956, and 1985-1987 drought events. A drought of similar length to the 2007-2009 drought would be expected to occur approximately every 25 years. Streamflow analysis shows that discharge levels in area streams were at a record low during 2007 before water restrictions were implemented, because of greater water usage caused by recent population increases. These population increases, combined with a lack of water conservation, led to severe water shortages in the Athens region during late 2007. Only after per capita usage decreased did water resources last despite continuing drought conditions through 2009. Retaining mitigation strategies and withdrawal levels such as seen during the height of the drought will be an essential strategy to prevent water shortages during future extreme drought events. The key mitigation strategy, independent local action to restrict water use in advance of state-level restrictions, is now prohibited by Georgia State Law.