Georgia's dry riverbeds could be the result of extreme drought or is it climate change?
Rocky Creek, the creek we live near, stopped flowing in early August. A few tiny minnows cling to life in the remaining pools. It became a trickle during a drought in the late 90s and never recovered.
Mystified by Rocky Creek’s rapid decline, especially since its 6.9 square mile watershed supplied the City of Forsyth with water for 28 years, Bud, my husband and I began asking questions.
A couple of people said Rocky Creek’s water flow changed after some blasting in her watershed. The river basin landowners said they’d not heard of blasting but the springs that fed Rocky Creek dried up during the drought in the late 90s.
David Stokesbury, a Georgia State climate expert recently said 70 out of 159 counties are experiencing an exceptional 100-year drought and 40 are in an extreme 50-year drought.
Tommy Irvin, Georgia’s Agriculture Commissioner said in his 38 years on the job he couldn’t remember a year that became dry this early.
Because the US Geological Survey shows that streams across the southeast are setting low-flow records we wondered if Rocky Creek’s dry riverbed had something to do with climate change. The results of our research were alarming.
Ron Neilson, a bioclimatologist with the US forest Service said, "the Southeastern United States appears to be among the most sensitive regions in the world on increasing temperatures." He warns as the climate changes our forests will disappear, "through drought, insect infestation and massive fire," to be replaced by open savannas.
A new NASA study published in the June "Journal of Climate" bolsters the expectation of major change ahead in Georgia. It predicts that in 80 years, summer high temperatures in the southeast could average over 100 degrees, with significant declines in rainfall.
Four scientific centers NOAA, NASA, The World Meteorological Organization and the Hadley Climate Prediction Center all agree the earth’s average temperature has risen by over a full degree Fahrenheit over the past 100 years. Eleven of the 12 warmest years on record have occurred since 1995. A one-degree rise may sound small but life forms flourish better in cooler temperatures.
Tobesofkee Creek, where the City of Forsyth gets its water, is also experiencing record lows. Fortunately Tobesofkee Creek’s Russellville Reservoir is full but what about the future? If the summer high temperatures and low rainfall are here to stay it’s only a matter of time before we have water shortages.
Fred Pearce, the author of "When the Rivers Run Dry: What Happens When Our Water Runs Out?" says that pumping out underground water reserves is only a short term solution if there isn’t enough rain to recharge the aquifers when they drop. Geologists say Monroe County has pools of water not aquifers as it sits on granite.
Solutions for Monroe County include forming a water authority to develop a countywide water management and drought response plan.
Building a county water reservoir and treatment facility if a countywide water authority is not viable.
Inform the public about ways to make relatively minor lifestyle changes to conserve water.
Strictly enforce the EPD rules concerning outdoor watering restrictions.
Request the State of Georgia provide a tax incentive for the development and purchase of technology for processing and distributing reused water.
Implementing a price increase and a mandatory tax for water consumed would provide a public incentive to reduce water consumption. Although the incentives may seem costly we can pay now or we can pay more later.
To avert a critical infrastructure and public health crisis elected officials need to accept that growth and the water consumption it creates cannot continue forever.