U.S. Water News Online
AUGUSTA -- Frogs and other creatures that usually inhabit
wetlands within the Savannah River Site are facing the specter of
local extinction as the drought in Georgia enters its fifth straight
year, ecologists say.
The drought that has lowered water tables and dried up wells all
over the state also has partially emptied the 70,000-acre Thurmond
Lake above Augusta. It shows little signs of letting up, and the
smallest creatures are paying the biggest price.
David Scott, a research ecologist at Savannah River Ecology Lab,
said about 40 different species of amphibians live in wetlands
surrounding the nuclear weapons plant across the river from Augusta
in South Carolina.
Water tables continue to decline in east Georgia. Thurmond Lake's
level is down 12 feet -- down from 330 feet above sea level to just
below 318. Augusta-area counties have seen a deficit of about 60
inches in cumulative rainfall since May 1998.
The continuous dry weather has so disrupted the habitat and
breeding patterns of some key species that they have slowed
reproduction, he said, sometimes to the point of becoming extinct.
``Drought changes the hydro-period of various ponds, meaning areas
that (usually) hold water all year now don't,'' said Scott, who has
studied frogs and other amphibians in the wetlands for 20 years.
``Some species can't handle that and they drop out, at least
One such species is the orange banded tiger salamander, which has
been vanishing because it's unable to breed.
Georgia's unusually dry weather is also affecting small alligators
in south Georgia, who usually stay in shallow ponds to avoiding being
eaten by larger alligators but have been increasingly forced into new
homes and new danger in deeper water.
The drought also is threatening mollusks and drying up cool
springs in the Flint River that sustain important fish species, such
Wildlife officials say the drought could also hamper quail
production, because it deprives newly hatched chicks of many of the
insects they feed on and reduces the vegetation that protects them
Scientists have studied amphibian populations in nearly 300
wetland areas along the Savannah River since the late 1970s but say
the current drought cycle is the most severe.
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