The 2002 Flint River Drought Protection Auction has been completed, "saving millions of gallons of water per day in southwest Georgia’s lower Flint River," according to officials with the state’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD).

This year’s auction will result in the removal of 40,352 acres from irrigation at an average cost of $127.97 per acres. The total amount that will be paid to farmers from state coffers is $5,163,645.

"We wanted to increase the amount of acreage taken out of irrigation, due to the fact that we’ve had even less rain than last year," says Harold Reheis, director of EPD. "We are very pleased with this year’s auction results."

To reach the goal of 40,000 acres being taken out of irrigation this year, the maximum bid accepted was $145 per acre. Farmers who submitted higher bids are advised to proceed with their regular spring planting routines.

On March 1, 2002, Reheis declared a severe drought in the Flint River basin, activating the Flint River Drought Protection Act. The act established a fund to compensate farmers in the Flint River basin who voluntarily stop irrigating their crops with surface water during a severe drought year.

The severe drought was declared after EPD officials studied data collected on groundwater levels, stream flow, winter precipitation and three-month precipitation outlooks. For example, February stream flows at five key measuring stations in the Flint River basin were at or below 10-year drought levels.

"This irrigation stoppage will assure an additional 200 cubic feet of water per second (CFS) in the Flint River at Bainbridge during the worst drought periods," says Reheis. "That CFS figure translates into nearly 130 million gallons of water saved per day"

Only those farmers who are permitted surface-water agricultural irrigators in the lower Flint River basin and are using streams that flow year-round — also called perennial streams — as their water source are eligible to submit bids. Farmers also had to prove that the acreage submitted for the auction was irrigated in the last three years and would be irrigated again this year under normal conditions.

Farmers whose bids have been accepted are being sent additional paperwork. This must be completed and returned before receiving payment. The Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority will dispense the funds within 15 days of receiving the requested paperwork.

For more information about the Flint River Drought Protection Act, call (404) 656-6328 or go to the EPD Website at www.dnr.state.ga.us/dnr/environ.