Southeast U.S. Parched by Continuing Drought A drought has severely depleted water resources in the Southeast, and reservoir levels are so low that the governor of Georgia has declared a water supply emergency in the northern part of the state. Guests discuss the impact the drought has had on the region and how the crisis is being managed.
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Southeast U.S. Parched by Continuing Drought

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

As the weather pattern shift, firefighters in Southern California have finally gained the upper hand. Recovery will be neither quick nor easy, but the crisis appears to have passed.

There is still no relief in sight for the parched, suffering southeast. Some called the drought there, which began more than a year ago, a slow motion disaster. Reservoirs are - levels are down drastically in Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas. There is what scientists call exceptional drought, the likes of which come about, on average, once every 50 years.

In Atlanta, watering restrictions have been in place for months now. The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta emptied some of its displays. Toilets in the Atlanta Airport are set to flush faster to save water, and Georgia's governor cancelled the state-sponsored fishing tournament. Lawns of brown plants are dead and it's illegal for Georgians to water either.

Later in the hour on The Opinion Page, Turkey standoff with the Kurds and an argument that we might see another Iraqi quagmire.

But first, the southeast drought. If you live in the southeast, what restrictions do you face, what if anything can be done. Call us, 800-989-8255. E-mail is talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation on our blog, that's at npr.org/blogofthenation.

We start today in Gwinnett County, Georgia where drought conditions are so bad that officials are enlisting the public to call in and rat out their neighbors.

(Soundbite of calls to WSB-TV)

Unidentified Woman #1: They're watering their lawn at 8:30 this morning. Plus, one of the sprinklers is watering the road.

Unidentified Woman #2: I felt the lawn, it's wet. The sidewalk is wet. So they're obviously watering pretty regularly. Just wanted you to know.

CONAN: That tape, courtesy of WSB-TV in Atlanta, Georgia. Frank Stephens is the guy who listens to those calls. He's the program specialist for the Gwinnett County Department of Water Resources and he joins us by phone from his office. Nice to have you on the program today.

Mr. FRANK STEPHENS (Program Specialist, Gwinnett County Department of Water Resources): Hello, thank you.

CONAN: And you're getting a lot of calls like those we just heard?

Mr. STEPHENS: Those and some even more interesting calls regarding the outdoor water-use ban.

CONAN: What are the more interesting ones like?

Mr. STEPHENS: Oh, one that I overheard today, a lady called in. She really wanted to give her dog a bath outdoors because of an apparent flea problem.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. STEPHENS: But her (unintelligible) was to take the dog indoors and -there's an outdoor water ban.

CONAN: And so, some neighbor might see this as a, you know, a backhanded attempt to water her lawn.

Mr. STEPHENS: We've had serious reports on a variety of infractions, not just the recordings that you had there.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. STEPHENS: Earlier, for example, one lady - she was rather bitter. She had dropped her groceries in the driveway and was hosing down the remains. And one of the neighbors reporter her for washing her driveway illegally.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. What is the penalty she might face for that illegal watering?

Mr. STEPHENS: Well, we haven't escalated scheduling of enforcement. We will first send out a warning letter, construed to be a strong educational letter, if you will.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. STEPHENS: We've sent some 1,400 of those since the end of September. Some people, we've given a warning letter to others, some 30 accounts we've actually locked off the meter. But if it's a chronic problem, we issue citations and we've issued a half dozen of those where a person would have to appear in court and could face a fine of up to $1,000.

CONAN: But in some 30 cases, you say, you've actually cut off the water?

Mr. STEPHENS: Correct.

CONAN: And that's a pretty stiff penalty by itself.

Mr. STEPHENS: Yes, it is. And we can do that administratively without consulting the judge.

CONAN: Ah-huh. Now, I assume there have also been, regrettably human nature being what it is, cases of neighbors just trying to get their neighbors in trouble?

Mr. STEPHENS: A few. Yes, there have.

CONAN: Yeah. That's always problem, isn't it? Do you have squads that - I mean, are you patrolling the neighborhoods to enforce these regulations, too?

Mr. STEPHENS: We have about 20 people that are involved in enforcing the outdoor water use ban. Most of our trips out into neighborhoods are on the - or at the response of a phone call. However, all of our crews that might be doing work in residential or commercial areas are authorized if they see some watering going on that is out of season, if you will.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. STEPHENS: They're authorized to make a stop and also bring the address back to us so that we can send one of those educational warning letters.

CONAN: And is all of this having an affect?

Mr. STEPHENS: Yes. Actually, our water usage has dropped back significantly from what it was before the total outdoor ban by about 20 percent.

CONAN: That's not - that's important.

Mr. STEPHENS: Mm-hmm.

CONAN: And at this point, is there much more you have left in your quiver of restrictions you can put in?

Mr. STEPHENS: Well, we're looking at stepping up our overall water conservation program. And some of them are outreach, some of them are - for example, rebates for plumbing fixtures, exchanging plumbing fixtures.

CONAN: So you get your low-flow toilets, that sort of thing.

Mr. STEPHENS: Right, right. But as far as enforcement goes, I couldn't imagine - I failed to mention, not only if you go to court could you get a fine of up to a thousand dollars, but even a 50-day jail term.

CONAN: Hmm. And that's pretty severe for watering your lawn.

Mr. STEPHENS: I believe so, yes.

CONAN: Yeah, but still, there's some people who just can't stand a brown lawn.

Mr. STEPHENS: Well, for some, I reckon it's a large investment.

CONAN: Hmm. If this drought goes on much longer, what are you going to be able to do?

Mr. STEPHENS: In terms of enforcement?

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. STEPHENS: I couldn't imagine much worse than a thousand-dollar fine and a jail penalty, but we're going to have to cogitate that I believe.

CONAN: Well, good luck to you.

Mr. STEPHENS: Thank you.

CONAN: Frank Stephens is the program specialist for the Gwinnett County Department of Water Resources. He joined us by phone from his office there. And Susanna Capelouto is the radio news director for Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta where she's been covering the drought, and she joins us now from a studio there. And nice to have you with us today.

Ms. SUSANNA CAPELOUTO (Radio News Director, Georgia Public Broadcasting): Nice to be here.

CONAN: And we mentioned this drought going on for better than a year now?

Ms. CAPELOUTO: It's about a year, I think. We had it going on at, I think, 18 months - somewhere around there - but it's sort of been under the radar. It really didn't hit us all, I think, until the beginning of October…

CONAN: Hmm.

Ms. CAPELOUTO: …when we got the all outdoor restriction.

CONAN: All outdoor water restriction. So, in other words, almost 10 months of drought and then people finally began to take notice.

Ms. CAPELOUTO: Well, we have this restriction where you could water every other day, things like that. So, it wasn't that severe. But, you know, once we saw our reservoirs really go down and the shorelines were starting to show…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. CAPELOUTO: …I think, people really got worried.

CONAN: Yeah, I was in northeastern Georgia in September. And then you could see, I mean, there is a little sand where people like to, you know, take their buckets down and play with their children. But then a whole lot of red clay before you saw water.

Ms. CAPELOUTO: Absolutely. And that's how all of our reservoirs are starting to look now. They're running dry.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. How worried are people beginning to get?

Ms. CAPELOUTO: Well, I think they sort of - no one really knows how much water we still have. There are estimates from, you know, 90 days, you hear. But then you hear people say, no, we have nine months, if we just dig deeper into the reservoirs. Ninety days is sort of the time when we get to the useable water, so to speak, the one that you can easily pump out of a reservoir.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. CAPELOUTO: After that, you have to go the murky levels and that's just, you know, will be more expensive to treat. But, you know, there is water, we just don't know really how much.

CONAN: Hmm. Let's see if we get a caller in on the line. If you'd like to join us, our number is 800-989-8255. What restrictions exist where you live and would you call in to rat out your neighbor if he or she was sprinkling? 800-989-8255. Greg(ph) is calling us from Fort Wayne in Indiana.

GREG (Caller): Hi, Neal.

CONAN: Hi.

GREG: I'm just - I'm curious how does this affect businesses, specifically golf courses?

CONAN: Is watering been cut off for golf courses, Susana Capelouto?

Ms. CAPELOUTO: It has. I mean, the watering ban is they can water their greens, okay, but not really the grass. And there are some, you know, golf courses now that want to use the pond water to water the lawn.

CONAN: The ponds that they may have on the golf course?

Ms. CAPELOUTO: Exactly, exactly. And we do have a couple of big, you know, PGA golf tournaments here in this region that have a huge economic impact. And there is a fear that, you know, this could impact them if there is no, you know, green lawn for the - but the Masters is not affected, by the way. Augusta is not part of this heavy drought. They have enough water.

CONAN: Huh. Okay. Well, that's next spring, in any case. So by which time…

Ms. CAPELOUTO: Right.

CONAN: …we all hope that it will have rained a little bit.

Ms. CAPELOUTO: Hopefully, we have rain by then. Right, exactly.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. And I assume there are other businesses, car washes, for example, that have been affected?

Ms. CAPELOUTO: Absolutely. And I heard today that when you rent a car in Atlanta, it will likely to be dirty. Car - rental cars are no longer washing the outsides of the cars…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. CAPELOUTO: …just the inside.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail. This is ridiculous. We should not be having this discussion in 2007 in the U.S. of America. We have dancing fountains in the desert of Las Vegas, thousands of pool in California, now brown lawns in Georgia. When will people wakeup and realize we are the responsible parties and we need to change, adapt to the conditions that Mother Nature presents to us. I have no sympathy for the people of overdeveloped regions of the south, especially Florida, that don't have water or water is becoming a much more critical, natural resource. That from Jeff(ph) in Cleveland, a Great Lake State and he says he hopes it stays that way.

But inevitably, just as the fires in southern California raised questions about where people are building houses, drought in the southeast - well, that brings up a lot of questions about where people are developing, well, not just houses, but business in southeastern United States.

Ms. CAPELOUTO: Well, that's the problem with this river system, the Chattahoochee River, which feeds Atlanta and goes all the way down to Florida. There's a lot of people that depend on this little river. It's really not that big. And people have always said that, you know, we haven't planned very well for growth, and we have a lot of, you know, these developers come in, they built the houses and they don't wait for the plumbing to come, they just put everybody on septic.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. CAPELOUTO: The problem, a quarter of all homes in metro Atlanta are on septic tanks. So here is that water, but it takes months to seep through and in a drought, that doesn't help you replenish the river. So, you know, it's poor planning, a lot of people say. Plus, we don't have really reservoirs built to hold water for all the people.

CONAN: So are - is anybody talking seriously about slowing down growth at least until such time as some of this water planning can be rectified?

Ms. CAPELOUTO: Well, the state is starting to - at least Georgia, from Georgia's perspective, we're starting, of course, a statewide water plan. But there's also this water sharing agreement that Alabama, Florida and Georgia have to - they've been working on it for 17 years, they still don't know how they're going to share this water.

And so, you know, there is a lot of planning in the works. Some people say we need to build reservoirs. I mean, it is definitely going to be a hot-button issue during our legislative session in - which starts in January (unintelligible).

CONAN: In January, so they're going to get right on it?

Ms. CAPELOUTO: Oh, right on - oh, well, that's, you know - right.

CONAN: Yeah. And maybe it'll rain. Maybe it'll rain, may be it'll rain (unintelligible).

Ms. CAPELOUTO: Well, that's what we hope for. But there's actually - some communities are putting moratoriums now on new construction, because they just can't - you know, building permits, because they have to cut down 10 percent of water. The government ordered the 10 percent cut in all water use starting in November for 61 counties. And in order to reach that, they all have to sort of do outdoor watering like Gwinnett County is doing. They're already at 20 percent, so they're fine. But others have put moratorium on, you know, new construction.

CONAN: Stay with us, Susana Capelouto. She is with Georgia Public Radio, with us from Atlanta, which is the epicenter of a drought that's afflicting the southeastern United States. And a lot of people are going to considerable lengths to save some water.

In a moment, we'll talk about exactly when a drought becomes a drought. And we'll take more of your calls, 800-989-8255, e-mail us talk@npr.org.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION. Stay with us. This is NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

We're talking about the drought in the southeastern U.S. and how people deal with these slow-motion disasters. If you live in the southeast, what restrictions do you face? What, if anything, do you think could be done? 800-989-8255. E-mail, talk@npr.org. And you can tell us your stories on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Susana Capelouto is our guest. She's the radio news director for Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta.

Let's get another caller on the line. This is Kate(ph). Kate's with us from Carrollto(ph), was that right, in Georgia?

KATE (Caller): Carrollton…

CONAN: Carrollton, they just left off the N. I apologize for that.

KATE: …which is west of Atlanta. And we have been under severe water restrictions longer than the city of Atlanta has. And my comment about it is -you know, I have small children. In April, I bought a yard sprinkler for them for the summer, and we were never able to use it, which is fine. But it was seemed much more fair to me if the burden to conserve water was shared equitably. And in our town, people were allowed to fill their pools all summer…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

KATE: …if it was an in-ground pool. And also, there is a booming business in well-digging. People who are on city water, I'm sure, are digging wells and put up a little sign in their yard that says, this land gets water by well water, and that's exempt from the restrictions.

Ms. CAPELOUTO: Mm-hmm.

KATE: And I just don't feel like it seems like the burden is shared by everyone.

CONAN: Yeah. I'm sure that she's not the only person to come up with those kinds of complaints, Susana Capelouto.

Ms. CAPELOUTO: No, we actually have well-diggers really having booming business. We couldn't get - you know, when the story first broke that well-diggers, you know, busy, we couldn't get one on the phone because they were so busy digging wells, just to do a news story on it. They're really the ones that are busy. If, you know, if you got water or somewhere in your property, you know, people start digging.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. That - if groundwater levels are part of the problem, wells are not going to help that, are they?

Ms. CAPELOUTO: Well, not really. They won't help really the watershed, but it's - the problem, I think, they're not exempt yet. I mean that could be the next step, it really could be.

The thing about pools, I think people just figured, you fill your pool and the water is just there and you can't keep refilling it.

CONAN: Right.

Ms. CAPELOUTO: You know, when you sprinkle, it kind of gets lost.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Kate.

Any truth to reports that people are hoarding water?

Ms. CAPELOUTO: Well, that's - there was a report today in the Atlanta paper about, you know, some people who just try to, you know, put water in the basement and stuff like that. And, I mean, I think it is on everyone's mind when you're standing there and you buy your bottle of water, everybody thinks about water or maybe people just pick up a few, you know, extra gallons. But I have not seen huge hoarding efforts. I'm sure there's, you know, amongst the five million people in metro Atlanta, there's always a few that think they have to sort of think ahead.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. CAPELOUTO: But I think it's a little too early to think that far ahead.

CONAN: And let me ask you a little bit about the politics of this. Not just Georgia governor Sonny Perdue - questions about how well he has handled this, but also interstate relations and a very public dispute with the governor of Alabama.

Ms. CAPELOUTO: Absolutely. That is the big key. Because the problem here is really how much water is the reservoir Lake Lanier letting go. Lake Lanier feeds metro Atlanta with water. And because of the Endangered Species Act, it has to have a minimal flow into the Chattahoochee River. So that water just slides right by Atlanta and doesn't even, you know, we can't use it and then it goes back. It goes straight to Alabama. Alabama says, well, that's our water. We are entitled to it and they need it for power plants. They have nuclear power plant on the Chattahoochee River.

And then, of course, Florida. That water runs all the way in Apalachicola Bay and you have some very endangered mussel species down there and a very fragile ecosystem that relies on the Chattahoochee River. And because of the Endangered Species Act, people in Georgia have to give up water, and that's where the fight is about.

CONAN: And that - sounds like that one's going to end up in court.

Ms. CAPELOUTO: It has been, yes. It's already in court and this is part of our - that's why the three governors of Florida, Georgia and Alabama are meeting with the president, I think on Thursday, to hopefully come up with, you know, something that will alleviate this drought problem or the water problem…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. CAPELOUTO: …in this area.

CONAN: In the meantime, I hope it rains.

Ms. CAPELOUTO: We all hope that. Yes. We have beautiful weather today. Not a cloud in the sky.

CONAN: Yeah. But it's taking on a bad taste in your mouth after a while.

Ms. CAPELOUTO: Yes.

CONAN: Susanna Capelouto, thanks very much for your time.

Ms. CAPELOUTO: You're welcome. Thank you.

CONAN: Susanna Capelouto, a news director at Georgia Public Radio in Atlanta, who joined us from their studios there.

Brian Fuchs is a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Nebraska. He also prepares the weekly United States Drought Monitor and joins us today from Nebraska Public Radio in Lincoln.

It's good to have you with us.

Mr. BRIAN FUCHS: (Climatologist, National Drought Mitigation Center): Hello. How are you this afternoon?

CONAN: I'm well. And I gather that the United States Drought Monitor has more readers than usual probably in the last few weeks.

Mr. FUCHS: Yes. The interest in the U.S. Drought Monitor has definitely increased this year, especially with the severity of the drought in the southeast as well as situations out in the Western part of the country, where we're also seeing some extreme situations in the western parts of California and in Arizona, up - all the way up in Idaho.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And drought, how do we define it? Do we know it when we see it? And is it easy for government officials to sort of look the other way for a good long while?

Mr. FUCHS: You know, drought can have various definitions based on the clientele who's trying to find that definition. The easiest one is lack of water over a definitive time period. It can be a short-term drought or a long-term drought, or can be a mix of both. And as far as how easily it can be ignored, it easily can be ignored. One of the missions of the National Drought Mitigation Center is to put drought in the forefront of the people's minds especially policymakers because they're the ones who can really help in establishing drought plans for a particular state or municipal government.

And at that point, we hope that with these plans in place they are better prepared and have done their homework, so to speak, for planning purposes. So when the drought does take place, using these mitigating circumstances, they can help lessen the impacts related to the drought.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And finally - well, let's get some listeners in on the conversation. And again, 800-989-8255.

And let's go now to Brian(ph). Brian is with us from Virginia Beach in Virginia.

BRIAN (Caller): Hi, thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

BRIAN: I was in Santa Barbara in the '80s - I think it was - when we had a like seven-year drought. And the one that - because Santa Barbara that time just had a local water, you know, the reservoir just over the mountains, and the lack of water was really the only effective way to keep growth down.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

BRIAN: Because the county supervisor could say we don't have the water. So you can't build this house or you can't develop this farm because we don't have the water. And, you know, because everybody got property rights and stuff and so a lot of other things happened. I think people were cooperative in taking showers in the bucket and all that kind of stuff. And of course, because they build a desal plant, but it took them so long to build it. By the time they built it, the drought was over.

CONAN: Desal, of course, desalinization…

BRIAN: Right.

CONAN: …taking seawater and getting the salt out of it, which is - which ain't cheap.

BRIAN: Right. Right. While it was - you know, we didn't have any water, so they spent the money, but I think they sell the water now to other people. But it was just the only way to control growth because, you know, people want to build there, but now they have other waters, so they have other issues about growth. So…

CONAN: Well, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

BRIAN: Sure.

CONAN: And it can, I guess, be a break on, eventually, on growth as we were hearing from Susanna Capelouto. Brian Fuchs?

Mr. FUCHS: Yes. We still hear reports out of California that when new growth is taking place that you have to take a serviceable meter out of production to get a new one into production. So in some instances, people are buying an old property for the water meter, before they can develop it. And California is especially unique in the way they manage their water with the multitude of reservoirs throughout the state and how they ship water from north to south and east to west across the state. It's very unique in our country as far as the magnitude that they do manage their water. And they need to, because of their population and their growth.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Let's talk now with Pam(ph). Pam is with us from Union City in Ohio.

PAM (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi.

PAM: We - when we had a really bad - I guess, dry spell in August. It's Ohio, it's August, you know, dry spell.

CONAN: Right.

PAM: We used gray water. We, you know, the old-fashioned rain barrel and water would go in that way, and we hooked up a long tube from our washer drainpipe out to some other tanks and then ran hoses from there and water then would go in that way so that we could, you know, save our garden from the dryness. Is that kind of stuff going on out in the southeast or…

CONAN: Brian Fuchs, gray water, which is of course untreated, not good for drinking necessarily, but watering your lawn should be fine.

Mr. FUCHS: Yes. With the use of gray water, you know, there has been a movement to use more of these techniques to bring this usable water out for a secondary use after the primaries has taken place. The problem with that is sometimes it's harder for people to do this than what they actually can put the effort forth and to try and to accomplish it. I think it is a good method of water conservation and it is a technique that should be investigated for not only the southeast but for - across the country, anywhere there is a water issue. It is a good way of alleviating some of the stress on public water systems.

CONAN: Okay. Pam, thanks for the advice.

PAM: Oh, you're welcome. Have a great day.

CONAN: Bye-bye. You, too.

PAM: Bye.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail we got from Judith(ph), excuse me, Alice(ph) formerly of Seattle, Washington. Despite Missouri's rainfall, the Puget Sound reason, i.e., Seattle gets much of its public water from snowmelt, so we got winter notice about a pending drought when the snow pack was low.

In the late 1980's, the city of Seattle began to promote implementation of drought response including law and watering restrictions. Overnight, my tight, little street which practice the green lawn imperative, adopted these watering restrictions and brown lawns became the fashion. Eventually, I replaced my lawn with a perennial garden which needs limited watering during the traditional summer drought. Yes, Seattle has water police but it works, and we are no worse for this tiny deprivation.

I guess, it's just asking people to change a little bit about the way they live their life - lives or the way they see their properties because landscaping is a big part of a lot of people's properties.

Mr. FUCHS: Landscaping is very important to many homeowners. And people want to take care of it and it does add property value. There are techniques to implement that would decrease outdoor water usage based on the type of foliage and plants that you do have around your property. There are drought-tolerant varieties of grasses that can be grown, as well as other plants and shrubbery that use less water than other varieties.

And so that's one of the personal things that a person can do to prepare in a drought situation to help alleviate the impacts is by doing a personal inventory of their water use and looking at their outdoor watering techniques and the type of plants they're maintaining and if they can make some changes there, it may cost some money in the beginning, but in the long run, they're going save money by not having to pay to water those plants.

CONAN: Hmm. Here's an e-mail we got from Chris. I'm a water industry professional supplying meters and meter-reading equipment to water utilities. It's well-known in the industry, but not widely publicized, that it's common for water utilities to report that as much one-third of the water delivered from the plant is lost before it gets to the end user or is unregistered by the water meter due to meter slippage. Both of these problems are easily mitigated by the use of available technologies. Do you know if he's right?

Mr. FUCHS: You know, we've heard about issues like these especially in larger metropolitan cities and also cities that have aging infrastructure that there is the certain amount of water that is lost just in the delivery process. And so, I guess, a municipal water manager - that is one thing to investigate and it may be worth the monetary investment to go ahead and try and fix this infrastructure which is going to be costly, but in the long-run, is going to A, save water, and B, you're going have a better water accessibility during a drought situation.

CONAN: We're talking with Brian Fuchs of the National Drought Mitigation Center about the situation especially in the southeastern part of the country. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get another caller on the line. This is Dan(ph). Dan, excuse me, Don from Salt Lake City.

Mr. DON DUFF (Caller): Yes, thank you. This is Don Duff. I'm a retired government fishery scientist. One of the things we forget about most often is the groundwater plumbing and the loss of groundwater from our aquifers. And that, coupled with the drought, could have a significant effect on a lot of areas. And it is happening from Maine to Georgia to Florida, the west, we're losing our underground aquifers to (unintelligible) pumping more wells. And so we need to be cognizant of that and limit growth in a lot of places.

Las Vegas, for example, has a proposal to massive ground water plumbing eastern Nevada and it could affect Western Utah. And you know that, like, they need to limit growth in that area. And…

CONAN: Yeah. I take it you're not running for public office in either of those places?

Mr. DUFF: No. No. But I'm trying to bring to the public some information that could help in candidates, you know, that we need to take a responsible look at our water situation. Drought is one thing but the, you know, the use of massive groundwater pumping and more wells, we have to take that into account also when we're developing things and people's livelihood. We don't want to take from one rural area to support an urban area. And I believe it was Susan Capelouto of Georgia…

CONAN: Capelouto, I mispronounced it a couple of times, too, but it's Capelouto.

Mr. DUFF: Capelouto, she mentioned the Endangered Species Act. And we have several native trout populations in the west here that if groundwater pumping and the drought goes on, you know, we could lose head water streams on national forests and other areas which could reduce populations and therefore put them into listing for Endangered Species Act. We want to try to keep away from that, but that's one thing that could come down the road coupled with the drought…

CONAN: Well, let me just put this in terms of a question to Brian Fuchs, and this is an e-mail that we got from Jennifer(ph). I'm interested in how groundwater fits into the issue. An earlier caller said private wells are not limited to water rationing and those who can afford it are drilling more wells. Shouldn't surface water and groundwater be managed in an integrated way to avoid depletion of either source of water? Brian?

Mr. FUCHS: She's exactly correct. When you start looking about water availability - and we have to remember that water is a finite resource, it is not unlimited and so when we have to do an inventory of what we have and understand the best way to utilize that resource. And this does include taking into account groundwater as well as surface water flows. They are connected. If you start pumping water out of the ground level or groundwater and, as the other caller mentioned, the aquifers start dropping, that in turn is going to influence your surface water flows because they play off of each other and it takes a very long time for those systems to recharge.

And if you're going to manage one and not the other, you're going to end up with definite problems and be running into these cases in many parts of the west where there's water rights being argued among surface water right holders and people pumping groundwater. So this is an issue that is not unique. It's been coming to the forefront more and more across the country especially in heavily populated areas and areas where ground water and surface water are still being utilized. But to do a full inventory of your water, you need to consider both and you have to manage both equally.

CONAN: And finally, we just have a few seconds left. What does the forecast look like? Are they going to get any rain?

Mr. FUCHS: You know, right now, we are in a La Nina situation in which the southeast does not bode well. Usually, in a La Nina winter, the area along the Gulf Coast experiences below normal precipitation, and the area in Ohio River Valley towards the Mississippi River Valley typically receives above normal precipitation. So the southern tier of the Gulf Coast states - Southern Alabama, Southern Georgia, in the South Carolina and Florida, we really are not anticipating much recovery in the drought situation at this time through the winter months.

CONAN: Well, let's hope you're wrong about that. We fear you're not but let's hope you are. Brian Fuchs, thanks very much for your time today.

MR. FUCHS: Thank you.

CONAN: Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Nebraska with us from Nebraska Public Radio in Lincoln.

Coming up, Turkey terrorism and Iraq are on the Opinion Page. Why the U.S. faces a crisis along Iraq's northern border. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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