Drought demands our attention

Just about everything is too dry and needs more water. Which means we need to be making every effort to use less of it.

That’s not a contradiction, of course; it’s the reality of a drought that has gripped the Southeast for months. It has gone well beyond an inconvenience and esthetic annoyance.

Wildfire, a danger to forests, wildlife and people that we normally associate mostly with arid California and other wooded parts of the desert West, continues to rage in the north Georgia mountains, engulfing some 40,000 acres.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division last week marked the 24th week of continuous severe drought in northwest Georgia, the 22nd in metro Atlanta, the 21st in northeast Georgia and the 15th in the central part of the state.

“In addition,” the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported on information provided by EPD, “there is a decline in soil moisture and some streams are flowing at or below record lows set during droughts in 2007 and 2011.”

More than 100 counties, including Muscogee, were already on Level 1 drought status; last week Gov. Nathan Deal elevated the status of 50 counties, including Harris, Meriwether and Troup, to Level 2, which prohibits many common outdoor water uses.

The crisis has not, needless to say, spared Alabama. The Opelika-Auburn News reported Monday that Auburn Water Works is considering a Phase II drought warning because water use this month is averaging 8.4 million gallons a day — more than 2 million gallons a day higher than last November’s average. Lake Saugahatchee, the primary source of Opelika’s water, is down 5 feet, which necessitates the city depending more on its secondary source, Lake Harding — which means, of course, the Chattahoochee.

Large forests and those who live in or near them aren’t the only beings at risk, as was made all too clear by Sunday’s Woodcliff Apartments fire that damaged or destroyed 19 units, displaced 75 people and injured a firefighter. That near-catastrophe was attributed to a wind-driven grass fire.

Monday morning, Columbus Fire and EMS declared an outdoor burning ban, effective immediately and until further notice. The ban includes campfires and small open recreational fire pits, although it does not (yet) extend to chimineas (enclosed outdoor fire pits) or masonry fire pits.

Those official designations restrictions from states and cities and water boards and the like are necessary and useful. But the best response to circumstances like this drought will always be that uncommon commodity we call common sense.

We should use as little water as we need to, and try to waste none. Carelessness with fire — any kind of fire, whether it is officially permitted at the moment or not — is always dangerous, but especially now.

Sooner or later, and preferably sooner than later, it will rain. Until then, let’s remember why it feels like the Chattahoochee Valley is turning into Arizona, and act accordingly.