|10-28-2007, 12:08 AM||#1|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: Elway was just an arm =MacGruder
US battles epic drought, little relief in sight
As California battles wind-whipped wildfires, vast areas of the United States are struggling with an epic drought that has millions of people fearing their taps could run dry.
In the southeastern United States, farmers are struggling with failing crops, environmentalists warn of impending disaster and three states are locked in battle over the use of a rapidly dwindling manmade lake.
"Nearly half of the Southeast is in extreme drought and water supplies have reached critical levels in some cities," says Michael Halpert, head of forecast operations at the official Climate Prediction Center.
In California, a week of infernos destroyed hundreds of houses and businesses, forced 300,000 people to flee their homes.
Many parts of the state have experienced record low rainfalls this year as temperatures shot to all-time highs, leaving vast swaths of parched countryside at the mercy of fires propelled by powerful winds.
Los Angeles recorded just 8.15 centimeters (3.21 inches) of rain in the year to June 30, making it the driest year on record since 1877. The city draws half its water from the Sierra Nevada mountains, which have provided only around 20 percent of normal levels.
Meteorologists fear a dry winter will prolong the drought in many of the affected regions.
Forecasters say a major storm could still barrel in from the Atlantic and bring badly-needed rains to the southeastern United States, but point out there is only one month left in the six-month hurricane season.
"With the hardest-hit areas needing more than a foot (30 centimeters) of rain to pull out of drought, this drought is not going away soon," said government forecaster Randy Schechter.
He said drought was expected to persist from northeastern Alabama to the mid-Atlantic states, and might redevelop in Florida, which has had some rainfall in recent weeks. In the western United States, drought is likely to continue from southern California into Arizona, Schechter said.
The worst hit is the southeastern state of Georgia, that is largely under level four, or "extreme" drought. Officials say this is the worst drought the state has experienced since 1892, if not in history.
Much of Georgia has been placed under a state of emergency, and Governor Sonny Perdue has requested federal aid.
Of major concern are the rapidly dropping water levels at Lake Lanier, a 38,000 acre (15,378 ha) reservoir.
The man-made lake supplies drinking water to three million people, mainly in Atlanta, and feeds the Chattahoochee River, which runs along the Alabama border and into Florida.
Perdue wants to reduce the amount of water that is released from the lake into the river, but Alabama says this would lead to the closure of a power plant and industrial facilities, while Florida has warned it would threaten an endangered mussel species.
Perdue has sought help from US President George W. Bush and filed a lawsuit requiring the water flow to be reduced.
"Drought is a natural disaster, and we are experiencing the single worst drought on Georgia's history. On top of that, we are mired in a man-made disaster of federal bureaucracy," he said at a recent news conference on the banks of the withering Lake Lanier.
The drought has left cattlemen with significant shortages of hay. "It's a very precarious situation right now," said Curt Lacy, a livestock economist at the University of Georgia. "I don't see how we will not have to liquidate cows due to the lack of hay supplies we have in the state this year."
In mid-Atlantic Maryland, "just about every crop was affected," said Buddy Hance, deputy secretary of the state's Agriculture Department. A farmer himself, Hance says his crop of soybean and corn this year was 70 percent below average.
"Many livestock producers have found it difficult to maintain feed supplies. Hay is in short supply and grass is almost non-existent on some farms," the South Carolina Farm Bureau Federation said.
Across the region, authorities have imposed restrictions on water use, and Georgia even ordered utilities companies to cut consumption by 10 percent.
And as firefighters in California battle massive blazes, officials in the Southeast are urging residents to exercise utmost caution around the states' bone-dry forests.
In Georgia, which has about 8,000 forest fires in an average year, forestry officials say the extended drought has set the stage for record-breaking fire activity, at a time when the state is worried about dwindling water supplies.