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Lake Lanier levels concerning for drought
LanierDrought16 WEB
Lake Lanier was at 1,067 feet as of June 27. Full pool is 1,071 feet. During the drought in 2007-08, it got down to 1,050. - photo by Micah Green

Toilet rebate program

Cumming and Forsyth County residents can receive a $100 rebate on their water bill for every old toilet they replace. For more information, click here.

Summer may be associated with beach trips and cooling off by the pool, but it also comes with drought concerns and an urge from officials for residents to do their part to conserve water.

The south half of Forsyth County and counties to the south are in severe drought, though the area surrounding Lake Lanier, north Forsyth and Hall County are still only in moderate drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor as of June 23.

And hot temperatures and dry weather is not over for the summer, either.

The National Weather Service forecast shows slight chances of rain throughout the week, with the highest chance so far being about 50 percent on July 4.

“Water is definitely our most precious resource,” said Jon Heard, director of utilities for the city of Cumming. “We’ve got to be conservation-minded, even in times when we don’t have drought so we can be prepared for times like these.”

Little rain and hot temperatures are lowering water levels on Lanier, which provides drinking water throughout the area.

The lake’s summer full pool is 1,071 feet above sea level, which is the ideal water level for the lake.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Lanier was at 1,067.62 feet.

The lowest the lake has been measured at this water year, which starts new on Oct. 1, was 1,066.45 on that day last year.

“We start being concerned about public safety impacts” at 1,066, Nick Baggett, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ natural resource manager at Buford Dam told The Gainesville Times.

Current drought levels are creating the opposite effect as was seen at the end of the calendar year, when the highest Lanier reached was 1,075.48 on Dec. 13, 2015, leading to heavier releases at Buford Dam and prompting some Corps-operated parks to close.

Forsyth’s current drought is also not as bad as it was in 2007-08, when the lake receded to dangerously low levels at about 1,050, Heard said.

Cumming’s utilities department, which is in charge of distributing water to the county, upgraded its water intake facility in response to that drought.

“We worked with the Corps to secure a new … facility, and that is at 1,020, and that is operational,” Heard said. “It is well below the elevation of the lake during the last drought. We are well-positioned to withstand a severe drought.

“Of course, time will tell how severe this drought will be.”

He said with the continuing growth of the area, the city and county are using more water than ever before, especially from contractors spraying it to control dust on construction sites and streets.

“Quite a bit of water is being used by the construction industry. Couple that with the drought situation, and it places a great demand on the city and county’s water system,” Heard said.

He noted that state guidelines restrict water usage at a certain drought level and that that point may be reached in the “near future.”

Whether the area is in drought or not, residents can always voluntarily conserve water.

“During summer months, outdoor water usage can get out of hand,” Heard said.

He suggested managing sprinkler systems, hoses and any other water used outside.

“It helps them save money because their water bill will increase as water usage increases,” he said.

The city runs a toilet rebate program through the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District.

Residents can receive a $100 rebate on their water bill for every old, inefficient toilet they replace with WaterSense labeled models.

According to the district, the average family can reduce water used by toilets by 20 to 60 percent. Since the metro Atlanta program began in 2008, 100,000 toilets have been replaced, resulting in a savings of more than 900 million gallons of water per year — enough to fill the Georgia Dome twice.

Heard said the program will help “ensure water through 2050.”