The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) will not issue a severe drought declaration in the lower Flint River basin this year.

"EPD has analyzed data on stream flows and determined that a reduction in irrigation that might be achievable through operation of the Flint River Drought Protection Act would have a negligible impact on surface water flows this year," said EPD Director Jud Turner.

"Southwest Georgia has experienced historically low basin inflow within several areas of the lower Flint River basin for several months, and it's going to take a significant amount of rain to improve conditions."

The Flint River Drought Protection Act (the Act) requires the EPD Director make an announcement regarding severe drought by March 1 of each year. The Act provides the authorization to compensate farmers who voluntarily stop irrigating their crops with surface or ground water after a severe drought declaration, although no funds are currently appropriated for this purpose.

EPD analyzes data on streamflow, rainfall and groundwater levels before making a decision. The only severe drought declarations were made in 2001 and 2002.

Over the years, better information has become available on the number of acres under irrigation in the region, the location of irrigated acres that would most likely impact stream flows and the amount of irrigation water expected to be pumped for various crops in dry years.

This information, along with critical hydrologic data from the current climatic cycle (2011 present), will form the basis for recommendations regarding changes to the Act to be introduced in the 2013 legislative session.

"There is no doubt we need a viable management tool to deal with drought in the Flint River Basin," said Turner. "The lessons we have learned over the past decade regarding the basin during times of severely reduced basin inflow will help us craft a tool that increases the effectiveness of the Act and the management of the basin."

This year's evaluation of streams in the lower Flint River basin shows that some are very likely to go dry during the summer months even without irrigation due to a lack of rainfall and already depleted groundwater levels.

For example, in part of the Spring Creek watershed there is already little streamflow from which farmers may withdraw water and the groundwater level in some areas is expected to be so low that further withdrawals will not affect flow in the streams. 

EPD, working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has launched a project to augment flows in Spring Creek using groundwater.

The additional water in Spring Creek will help insure that certain species of endangered mussels survive during periods of drought.

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