Understanding Drought

Drought in Athens-Clarke County



A drought is an extended period of time of abnormally low precipitation resulting in a shortage of water.  Droughts can last from a few months to several years and can occur in any climate. 

Here in Athens-Clarke County we get our drinking water from the North Oconee and Middle Oconee Rivers.  During a drought these rivers run low and our water supply is affected.  At these times we use the Bear Creek Reservoir as a backup source of water.  Water is pumped to the reservoir from the Middle Oconee River.  If the rivers are too low for Athens-Clarke County to get water from, then the Middle Oconee is also too low to pump water into the reservoir.

How do we determine whether we are in a drought?



The Drought Triggers
The three primary indicators that water resource managers look at when determining drought status are: 1) the level of the Bear Creek Reservoir, 2) flow levels of the Middle Oconee River and North Oconee River, 3) the Palmer Hydrologic Drought Index, and 4) the Standard Precipitation Index.

Drought Levels
When these primary indicators fall below normal for an extended period of time, Athens-Clarke County reaches drought status.  These triggers are also used by the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority and are part of the Drought Contingency Plan.  There are four drought levels.  Each requires a reduction in water use.  Level 1 requires us, and all the member utilities of the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority, to reduce water consumption by 2.5%, Level 2 requires a 5% reduction, Level 3 a 10% reduction, and Level 4 requires a 20% reduction.

After the drought, be prepared for:

  • Flooding due to litter accumulation in storm drains
  • Increased erosion due to lack of grass and vegetation
  • Falling trees due to weakened root structures
  • Leaking foundations and drainage pipes due to settling
  • Continuing to use water efficiently because all the water we have today is all the water we will ever have!

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The Middle Oconee River at normal flow
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The Middle Oconee River during a drought



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