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Drought makes American authorities empty Georgia Aquarium

Hard drought conditions across the Southeast contribute to efforts to conserve water - the aquarium also fell victim.

In the name of conservation, the Georgia Aquarium, home of the world's largest fish tank, has emptied some of its watery displays. 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.

The aquarium is not alone: A water salute to retiring pilots at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport also has been put on hold.

The efforts are some of the most unusual as the state contends with one of the worst droughts in its history. Georgia already has banned virtually all outdoor water use and ordered public water utilities to cut back water use by 10 percent.

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

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

"We've tried to do anything we can internally," said Gibbons, who estimated the moves could save more than 1 million gallons (3.79 million liters) of water each year.

Along with saving water, the measures have had a financial bonus: Pennies that visitors toss into a pool once brimming with water are now easily accessible. "And they've been turned in to the bank," Gibbons quipped.

The airport has banned its "washdown" salute given 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.

However, that display used about 500 gallons (1,893 liters) of water.

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

The drought has worsened with 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.

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, Paulding 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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