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Why Recent Rains Haven’t Eased Drought for Most of Metro Atlanta

Posted on: May 17, 2017

Most of metro Atlanta remains in a Level 2 drought response, despite recent downpours that have prompted many of us to keep our umbrellas and rain jackets within easy reach.

So, what gives?

Put simply: Lake Lanier remains well below “full pool.” In fact, it’s more than 6 feet low, the third-lowest on record for this time of year. This matters because Lake Lanier is the primary source of water for much of metro Atlanta.

The Atlanta Regional Commission, which provides staffing to the the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District, is urging metro Atlanta residents to use water wisely. As a reminder, outdoor watering restrictions remain in place for much of metro Atlanta. Only water lawns and plants when necessary.

Water conservation matters more than ever. Visit and take our 40 gallon challenge.

These five questions and answers should help explain the region’s drought situation:

It’s been raining. Why isn’t Lake Lanier filling up?

The rain deficit over the past year has just been too great, especially north of Lake Lanier. Spring rains have helped increase lake levels, but the reservoir remains at near-record low levels for this time of year. The abnormally dry conditions also mean that much of the rain we do get is soaked up by the soil instead of filling the lake.

What has this meant for water levels at Lake Lanier?

At full pool, Lake Lanier’s water level stands at 1,071 feet. But as our drought has persisted, we’ve been stuck between 6 and 10 feet low since November. This is much lower than normal. In June 2016, for example, the lake stood at nearly 1,069 feet.

Won’t spring and summer rains help fill the reservoir?

That’s possible. But Lake Lanier is usually “recharged” by soaking winter rains. Typically, in the summer we get fast-moving afternoon thunderstorms that aren’t as helpful at filling the lake.

And lake levels typically fall each summer, due to evaporation, reservoir management and other factors. Lake Lanier usually drops by more than 6 feet over the summer; last summer, which was especially dry, it fell nearly 10 feet.

Of course, a hurricane or other large rain event could help fill the lake. In September 2009, for instance, Lanier rose by more than 3.5 feet in just 10 days. But that’s unpredictable.

What does this mean for me?

We must all take steps to conserve water.

Most importantly, pay attention to outdoor watering restrictions and only water plants when needed during those times.

Inside the home, take shorter showers and check for leaks. Replace inefficient toilets, shower heads and other fixtures. Only run your dishwasher and washing machine when full.

Learn more about how you can conserve and take a pledge to use less water at

What is the current drought response for metro Atlanta?

The state has placed much of the Atlanta region in a Level 2 drought response, which restricts outdoor watering. This includes residents and businesses in Cobb, Coweta, DeKalb, Douglas, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Hall and Paulding counties.

Residents and businesses in these areas should only water when necessary, up to twice a week – and only before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m. Even addresses and sites with no numbered address may water on Wednesday/Saturday, and odd addresses may water on Thursday/Sunday.

Outdoor watering activities that are NEVER allowed:

  • Washing streets, gutters, sidewalks and driveways
  • Ornamental uses, such as fountains and waterfalls
  • Washing vehicles (cars, boats, etc.) at home
  • Non-commercial washing or pressure washing
  • Charity or non-commercial fund-raiser car washes

Outdoor watering that IS allowed: *

  • Irrigation of personal food gardens
  • Irrigation of new and replanted seed, turf or plants for a period of 30 days following installation
  • Watering with drip irrigation or soaker hose
  • Hand watering, including watering cans and hoses with auto shut-off nozzles
  • Use of water withdrawn from private water wells

* Not subject to the 4 p.m. to 10 a.m. or twice-a-week restrictions.

Please do your part to use water efficiently, and stay tuned for future updates.