2.1 My drought is different from your drought: A case study of the policy implications of societal understandings of drought during Georgia's “100-year drought,” 2007-2009

Monday, 7 January 2013: 1:30 PM
Room 19A (Austin Convention Center)
Ellen Kohl, Univ. of Georgia, Athens, GA; and J. A. Knox

Throughout the late summer and fall of 2007, as meteorologists' predictions provided no relief for the drought-stricken Southeastern United States, politicians in the state of Georgia grappled with how to best manage a dwindling supply of available water. The available water supplies in North Georgia were being stressed by two factors: 1) a lack of rainfall (Athens, located in Northeast Georgia, received 65% of its average annual rainfall in 2007); and 2) increased demand from burgeoning population growth (the Athens region population increased 109% from 1980 to 2008). The drought, dubbed popularly as the 100-year drought, actually was not a 100-year drought in terms of drought indices or precipitation deficits. However, as defined by streamflow (which is dependent on both precipitation and population-driven water usage) and societal impact, this drought rivaled or exceeded the worst conditions experienced in North Georgia in the past century.

From a policy perspective, this drought highlighted differences in how stakeholders understand drought and the impact this has on drought management policies. This paper focuses on this aspect of Georgia's "100-year drought." This paper draws on participant observation and semi-structured interviews to explore how members of the Georgia Green Industry Association (GGIA), an industry group for landscapers, nursery wholesalers and retailers, water irrigation specialists, and greenhouse operators understand and answer the following questions: what is drought, how was water managed during times of drought, and how did these understandings impact the way water was managed during times of drought? GGIA was instrumental in lobbying for the passage of Georgia House Bill 1281 in April 2008, which changed the way water in Georgia is managed during times of drought by requiring local governments to seek approval from the director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to implement their own water restrictions. Using an analysis of individuals' understandings of drought and water management during times of drought, this paper explores the policy ramifications of these multiple understandings of drought. The impact of HB 1281 on water restrictions during Georgia's most recent drought (2011-present) is also discussed.

In conclusion, this paper argues that multiple understandings of drought can change the way water is managed during times of drought when stakeholders base their lobbying efforts on these multiple understandings. Therefore, it is important for researchers and policy makers to pay attention not just to scientific definitions of drought, but also to how stakeholders interpret and use this information.

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