el-awrence.jpgGeorgia’s dry conditions prompted officials Wednesday to declare a statewide drought, implementing tougher restrictions on outdoor water use. The restrictions, classified as Level 1 under the state’s drought response plan, would ban outdoor water use between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., times when water used outside would most likely evaporate during hot summer days. Carol Couch, director of the state Environmental Protection Division, made the announcement Wednesday after consulting with Gov. Sonny Perdue. Her announcement was based on the recommendations of a state drought response panel that convened earlier in the day.

Mystech: Now as much as I enjoy (and look good in) Bedouin garb, these droughts are depressing. One lovely stream in a park we use that normally flow at 2-3 feet is currently flowing at 2-3 inches. I know several friends must be gnashing their teeth over their gardens. Thanks for the lead, Ravenfeather. :-(

‘‘If we can do some early conservation, then later we will not have to go through the same extent’’ of water conservation measures, Couch said.Previously under the state plan, residents could water lawns or wash cars anytime every other day, depending on their address. The Level 1 plan allows water use only on scheduled days from midnight to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 11:59 p.m.

Cities and counties still may enact harsher water restrictions, Couch said. Cherokee and DeKalb counties have enacted total water bans this week and several metro Atlanta counties, including Fulton and Forsyth, are urging residents to limit outdoor watering as dry conditions continue.

The committee — made up of representatives from 32 state and federal government agencies, as well as colleges and nongovernment organizations — made its decision after hearing from state and federal climate and water experts. The experts said most of the state was facing drier-than-normal conditions, including lower stream and reservoir levels.

Although Georgia is seeking a temporary restraining order against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for draining excessive amounts of water from the state’s reservoirs along the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River system, Couch said the dry conditions all across the state prompted her agency to convene the drought panel.

Experts told the panel that Georgia was experiencing a mild to moderate agricultural drought. A large part of the state, stretching from the southwest to the northeast, has had less rain than usual this year.

State climatologist David Stooksbury said University of Georgia monitoring stations recorded less than an inch of rain from the mountain areas just south of Gainesville to the north coastal plain near Dawson.

‘‘Yes we are extremely dry,’’ Stooksbury said. ‘‘This has actually developed very quickly.’’