Georgia declares state of emergency

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Georgia has declared a state of emergency over its worst drought in decades and appealed to President George W. Bush for federal aid.

Low rainfall in the Southeastern United States has caused a drought in several states, including swaths of Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and North and South Carolina.

Gov. Sonny Perdue asked Bush to issue a federal disaster designation for the drought-affected parts of the state that would empower him to order less water released from Lake Sidney Lanier and make federal funds available to state and local governments.

It would also enable low-interest loans to be offered to Georgia businesses hurt by the drought.

“Drought is a natural disaster, and we are experiencing the single worst drought in Georgia history.” Purdue said in a statement issued late on Saturday.

“On top of that, we are mired in a man-made disaster of federal bureaucracy,” said Perdue, who declared the state of emergency for 85 of the state’s 159 counties.

“We need to cut through the tangle of unnecessary bureaucracy to manage our resources prudently -- so that in the long-term all species may have access to life-sustaining water,” Purdue said.

Water levels have fallen dramatically at Lake Lanier, which has 692 miles of shoreline and stands at the head of a system of storage lakes and rivers serving much of Georgia and parts of Florida and Alabama.

If no rain falls within 80 days, the lake will reach the bottom of its storage pan, although it will not have run dry, according to Ronald Payne, deputy commander of the Mobile district for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Much of the state is experiencing a drought classified as “extreme,” which happens once every 50 to 100 years, according to climatologists. An outdoor watering ban is in effect for much of the state, including Atlanta.