The rain puddles across the street from the Fayetteville Fire Department headquarters were a warmly welcomed sight Tuesday morning after months of little to no rainfall. (Staff photo by Danny Harrison)

Tuesday morning’s substantial rainfall was a welcomed sight for many people across a good number of Georgia counties, not the least being farmers here in Fayette, who say it has come too late to help the current round of crops but will be helpful to get fields ready for next year.

County and city water department officials were also encouraged by the rain as reservoirs got a bit of a boost, and fire fighters are cautiously optimistic that conditions may improve enough soon to see fewer and fewer brush fires.

However, Fayette County is still likely to be in Level 2 Drought Response mode for weeks to come, and the total outdoor burn ban is likely to remain in place for a good while longer as well, officials say.

Fayette County Farm Bureau President Rick Minter, who operates a Christmas tree farm south of Fayetteville in the Inman community, said Tuesday morning he and his fellow farmers were glad to see what had already fallen, and they are looking forward to more rain Wednesday and next week, but he also said the damage is already done in terms of hay production, and he said grass-fed beef suppliers are some of the hardest hit by the ongoing drought. Many farmers are having to buy hay from other regions, he said, which will drive up prices for locally-sourced beef.

“The hay shortage is real,” Minter said. “There’s not any to be found around here.”

Minter said in some cases, local cattle farmers have sold off animals because of the lack of grass to feed them.

On the bright side, Minter says the rains are coming in time to help farmers till up their ground and prepare it for the spring planting season. He also noted that working farms like his will benefit from the lower fire risk in the fields. On his Christmas tree farm, he says he hasn’t been worried about his trees catching fire because they’re well-attended, but it is the dry field conditions that have posed a risk.

The trees did suffer from the drought, though, Minter said. He explained that Christmas tree varieties often grow about two feet a year, but this year they only grew about six inches due to lack of rain.

Fayette County Water Department Director Lee Pope said he, too, was happy to see the return of rain.

“It’s been a wonderful thing,” Pope said Tuesday, noting that his counterparts in other counties have also been pleased to see an end to the weeks-long lack of rain. He said an inch of rain had been recorded as of late Tuesday morning, which he said as a rule of thumb translates to about a foot added to reservoirs in the area.

Pope was quick to add that Fayette County’s reservoirs, including Lake Horton, Lake McIntosh, Lake Peachtree, and Lake Kedron, have been in relatively good shape up to now, and especially Lake Peachtree and Lake Kedron, which haven’t been used to supply water to the system for a while. He said even before Tuesday’s rain, the four lakes held enough treatable water to supply the county’s need for more than 300 days.

But never mind that, he says, bring on the rain. In particular, Pope said the manner in which the ran has fallen and is forecasted to fall will be good for the region, because it is slow and steady, which means fewer flooding problems and more substantial absorption and retention where it is needed.

That’s the good news.

The less pleasant news, Pope says, is that the Level 2 Drought Response, which is determined at a regional level and not on a county level, will likely stay in place for a while to come.

“I anticipate it staying in place for months, maybe until the spring,” Pope said.

That means residents are not to wash streets, gutters, or sidewalks; they are not to activate decorative water features in the yard; they can’t operate charity car washes; they can’t do non-commercial pressure washing; they can’t wash vehicles at home; and any outdoor watering that is permitted must be done on the “odd-even” schedule.

If properties have an even address or an address with no street number, watering is allowed on Wednesdays and Saturdays between midnight and 10 a.m. and again that same day from 4 p.m. until midnight. The days for odd-numbered addresses are Sundays and Thursdays. That watering basically includes lawns, gardens, and trees.

Fayetteville Fire Chief Alan Jones joined the chorus Tuesday in sharing his gratitude for the rain, but in expected safety-first fashion, he is warning locals not to become complacent and not to violate the burn ban, which has not been lifted. He said it will not likely be lifted for weeks to come.

Jones noted it is the Georgia Forestry Commission that sets burn ban standards for the region, and most counties, cities, and towns in this region simply follow that direction. So the burn bans, which are county-wide, remain.

Jones said it makes sense to pay attention particularly to the Level 2 Drought Response when considering burning permits, because one condition of receiving a burn permit is that residents must be standing by with an active water hose. Considering the water use limitations brought on by the recently-adopted Level 2 Drought Response, allowing burning on some days and at some times of day could present a conflict, he said.

“I don’t see us doing anything with the burn ban immediately,” Jones said. “It’s going to take several more rains of this amount. We’ll keep an eye on it and see.”

Jones noted that Fayette County is on average about 10-15 inches short on rainfall for this time of the year.

“Hopefully people will continue to be patient with us,” Jones said. “We’re not out of this yet.”