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Aquarium among those cutting water use
Drought restrictions being felt
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ATLANTA -- Heeding the call for conservation amid an epic southeastern drought, officials have plugged up some high visibility water consumption, from aquarium tanks to fire hoses.

The Georgia Aquarium, the world's largest fish tank, has emptied some of its watery displays in the name of conservation. The downtown Atlanta attraction has drained a lake in an atrium, turned off a waterfall and nearly emptied a moat at an exhibit, refilling it with sand.

None of the drained exhibits, however, contained fish, aquarium spokeswoman Meghann Gibbons said. Exhibits with fish continue to operate normally, she said.

The aquarium is also replacing its urinals with waterless urinals, adding low-flow faucets, banning pressure-washing of the building and requiring all employees and volunteers to take a water-conservation course.

"We've tried to do anything we can internally," said Gibbons, who estimated the moves could save more than 1 million gallons of water each year.

An added bonus: Pennies thrown into a pool once sloshing with water are now easily accessible. "And they've been turned in to the bank," Gibbons quipped.

At Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, a watery tradition has been shut off due to the drought.

The airport has banned its "washdown" salute to retiring commercial airline pilots on their final flight to the airport. For decades, two Atlanta Fire Department trucks would spray an arch of water to salute the pilot, a rite of passage of sorts. But the tradition, which used about 500 gallons of water, has been nixed.

"We're trying to mainly use water for essential firefighting operations," said Capt. Bill May, a fire spokesman. "Maybe if we can get the water supplies back up, we can revisit the process."

The drought that began in parts of Georgia and Alabama in early 2006 has spread throughout the Southeast, worsened by sweltering temperatures and a drier-than-normal hurricane season. Now drought in almost one-third of the Southeast has been deemed "exceptional" — the most severe drought category.

Few places are feeling the pinch as much as north Georgia.

Although the state has banned virtually all outdoor water use and ordered public water utilities to cut back water use by 10 percent, many counties and cities have gone a step beyond.

West Georgia's Paulding County has taken some of the most aggressive steps so far, restricting watering for landscapers and car washes that don't recycle and imposing fines on first offenses for watering violations. The county has also ordered homes and business to cut water use by 10 percent or face stiffer fees.

"I feel like we're staring ugly in the face," said Jerry Shearin, the county's commission chairman. "It's a very critical situation. And we're going to prove to the world we're doing everything we can to conserve."

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