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Most North Georgia Water Systems Meet Water Conservation Goal

ATLANTA (AP) _ Water systems in drought-stricken northern Georgia have exceeded a state mandate to reduce the region's consumption by 10 percent, an early sign that the state's conservation efforts are working, Gov. Sonny Perdue said Tuesday.

Providers in 61 counties reduced their water use by about 13 percent _ or some 348 million gallons a day, Perdue said. ``This is enough water to supply 1.7 million Georgia households every day,'' he said.

However, while that was enough to meet the region's overall goal, 31 of the region's 97 largest water providers didn't reach that target, said Carol Couch, the state's top environmental official. She said 17 others were ``oh so close.''

With reservoir levels at record lows, Perdue ordered public water utilities through north Georgia in October to cut their water withdrawals by 10 percent. He warned then that systems could face fines from the state's Environmental Protection Division if they didn't comply.

Perdue said he's ``amazed and pleasantly surprised'' at the results.

He wouldn't say if the state will fine providers that didn't meet his order.

``We're not saying what consequences will or will not be,'' he said. ``We think most people will do their part. We haven't focused on the consequences. We focused on how to diagnose how systems aren't successful.''

More than one-third of the Southeast is covered by an ``exceptional'' drought _ the worst drought category. The Atlanta area, with a population of 5 million, is smack in the middle of the affected region, which includes most of Tennessee, Alabama, North and South Carolina, as well as parts of Kentucky and Virginia.

A dry winter is forecast and water reserves are dwindling in Lake Lanier, the north Georgia reservoir that supplies Atlanta with most of its water.

Perdue has asked the federal government to release less water from its reservoirs and held a public prayer vigil for rain on the steps of the Capitol.

The dry conditions have given a new sense of urgency to Georgia, Florida and Alabama to settle a water fight that's lasted almost 20 years over how the federal government manages water in the region.

At a meeting Monday, the three governors and the federal government agreed not to reduce the minimum amount of water flowing into Florida's Apalachicola Bay, a move that fishermen said would devastate the Florida Panhandle's oyster industry. They pledged to come up with a plan for doling out the region's water by March.
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