With the extended drought causing record-low water levels throughout Georgia, many farmers are concerned that state officials will step in and begin regulating water use for irrigation, especially in the state’s farm-rich southwest region. But the agency in charge says it won’t happen.

Water conservation is critical in south Georgia, but the state’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) is assuring growers it does not intend to curtail agricultural irrigation due to the ongoing drought.

“Crops are in the ground and a state-imposed reduction in irrigation at this time would be devastating to the region’s farm-based economy,” says EPD Director Carol A. Couch.

A lack of rain has caused abnormally dry conditions in parts of south Georgia and increased demand for groundwater. In addition, the increase in water pumping has caused groundwater levels to drop in some areas.

According to data collected from three U.S. Geological Survey monitoring wells in Lowndes, Cook and Tift counties, groundwater levels during May in the deep Floridan aquifer range from two to 25 feet lower than they have been this time of year since 2000.

In May, residential wells, which draw water from the shallow aquifer that lies above the deeper Floridan, were experiencing a lowering of water levels. No wells have run dry and the homeowners have successfully responded by lowering pumps, according to EPD.

Citizens who have questions about their wells are encouraged to contact a qualified well drilling company or water pump installer, say EPD officials. The agency will continue to monitor groundwater levels through the course of the summer, and it urges all water users to conserve.

Normal winter and spring rains will be needed to replenish the aquifers in order to support next year’s crops, according to EPD. “We will be evaluating regional groundwater conditions and will consider any necessary water management actions in advance of the 2008 growing season,” says Couch.

e-mail: phollis@farmpress.com