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Stone Mountain Park Bows to Drought Concerns

Under an avalanche of criticism, Stone Mountain Park shut down its snow-making machinery Wednesday, but the park said it is still "exploring its options" of how to fashion a white winter wonderland in the middle of a drought.

The proposed attraction - Coca-Cola Snow Mountain - raised the ire of environmentalists and residents across the state after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Wednesday the park would be using about 1 million gallons of municipal drinking water to make snow for the attraction.

DeKalb County Chief Executive Officer Vernon Jones applauded the park's decision to stop its snow makers. "It doesn't bode well with the public," Jones said at a news conference at the county's Department of Watershed Management. "It just doesn't look right."

Stone Mountain Park officials said they weren't violating the state-imposed water restrictions that went into effect last Friday, citing an exception in the law that commercial outdoor use of water was appropriate if it was an "essential" part of a company's daily business.

But the Georgia Environmental Protection Division said Wednesday the park was in violation of the new restrictions. "We do not consider that particular venture an essential part of their business," said EPD spokesman Kevin Chambers.

The strict new ban, which went into effect last Friday, has not been uniformly followed. At downtown Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park, the fountains that have become a well-known tourist attraction should have been turned off, according to a spokeswoman for the Atlanta Department of Watershed Management. The fountains were still on after 8 p.m. Wednesday night. "They should be aware of the regulations," spokeswoman Janet Ward said.

The regulations apply to all outdoor water fountains in the city, even if the water is recycled, she said. Ward said she did not know if the city had spoken to Centennial Park officials about the fountains. Officials at the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, which oversees the park, could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.

Stone Mountain Park's decision to stop snow production was praised by the office of Gov. Sonny Perdue - who has urged Georgians to conserve water by declaring October "Take A Shorter Shower" month.

"At a time when Georgia is facing one of the most severe droughts in our recorded history, we all must be willing to make sacrifices and do our part to conserve water," said Perdue spokeswoman Heather H. Teilhet. "The voluntary action by Stone Mountain Park today is one example of the businesses and citizens across our state that are realizing the critical water shortage we're facing and looking for alternatives that will save water."

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