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Alabama Cities Say They Tried To Conserve Water

By Associated Press

Alexander City AL – Short of asking for divine intervention, city and county officials from central and east Alabama said Tuesday they have done everything possible to protect water supplies during the devastating drought that has gripped the Southeast.

"There's nothing we could have done. This is strictly a drought caused by a lack of rain," said Alexander City Mayor Barbara Young. "We probably should have prayed a little more."

Young joined more than a dozen officials from Alabama cities, counties and water systems at a Statehouse news conference Tuesday to respond to recent comments by Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, who stated that Atlanta took significant steps to prepare for the drought while Alabama did little.

Perdue made his comment in a dispute between the states over whether Georgia should release more water from its reservoirs or hold back its resources to protect Atlanta's drinking water supply. Meanwhile water levels in lakes along Alabama rivers dropped to record levels for summer months and some water systems have been forced to take emergency measures to protect water supplies.

Jerry Sailors, co-chair of the Southeast Water Alliance, said some Alabama cities began taking conservation measures as early as March.

Mac Underwood, general manager of the Birmingham Water Works Board, said the system began advising residents to conserve water in early April and restricted watering lawns to two days a week in May. In June, he said the system banned all outside watering unless it was done with a hand-held hose and charged customers a surcharge if they used too much water. He said the restrictions saved as much as 30 million gallons of water a day.

"We are convinced we made the right decision," Underwood said.

Young noted that pumps have been floated on barges to deep water in Lake Martin, which has dropped so low that the city's system of pumping drinking water from the lake was threatened.

She said the city has asked water customers to conserve, but has not implemented mandatory restrictions.

"We have a plan for mandatory restrictions and to impose a surcharge if necessary. But we have just gone up on our utility rates and we don't want to do that," Young said.

Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford, a former legislator, said the solution is for Alabama and Georgia to stop fighting and work together.

"Alabama and Georgia fighting each other is good on the football field, but in terms of water it should not reach that point," Ford said.

Gov. Bob Riley did not attend the news conference, but in a separate appearance said Alabama's economic growth is at stake because of the drought. He said Alabama and Georgia must find a way to share water resources.

"This is about whether Alabama gets its fair share and whether we are going to have to lay off people in Alabama," Riley said. As governor, he said he does not have the authority to order water restrictions similar to those ordered recently by Perdue in Georgia.

"But again, I don't know of anyone that is not doing something today and they are doing a relatively good job," Riley said.

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