At least 36 states will face catastrophic water shortages within five years due to an combination of drought, rising temperatures, urban sprawl and population growth, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
"Certainly people need to understand that water can disappear," said American Water Association President Gerald Galloway. "It can run out and if they don't take steps, they're going to have very large problems in the future."
The concerns are compounded by the fact a drought has strangled Southeastern waterways for months and came to a drastic pinnacle Wednesday morning when one Tennessee town awoke waterless.
The mountain spring that used to provide water for people in Orme, Tenn., is parched, and now water must be hauled to the town daily.
"It's hard. It's really inconvenient not having any water," said resident Gwynn Smith.
Now residents only have water for three hours a night after Mayor Tony Reames turns the taps on in the evening at 6 p.m.
"This is a disaster. Without water, things die," Reames said.
Could Atlanta Be Next?
The drastic and dramatic situation in Orme has served as an additional warning to Georgia officials and residents who worry their water supply will dry out, too.
In an effort to prevent that, the state has banned all outdoor watering with few exceptions. And the restrictions are about to get tighter.
Georgia Gov. Sonny Purdue ordered a 10 percent reduction in water use in response to the crisis.
Now local authorities are scrambling to find ways to curb the usage. Police are writing hefty citations to any resident caught working with a garden hose in the Atlanta area.
Even business are forced to cut back on consumption under threats they will be closed.
Some said the enforcement has gotten too strict.
"This thing about inspectors in cars looking for people to fine them $1,000, that's a bit too much," said Frank Lynch of Cactus Car Wash. "I'm very nervous. But I hope and expect that sanity will prevail."
But with Atlanta's two water sources, the primary Lake Lanier and the secondary Lake Allatoona, drastically below levels, even the slight rain forecast for Wednesday will not be enough.
The region needs 16 inches of rain in order to raise dwindling levels and support the nearly 4 million residents.
Compounding the region's water woes is the fact endangered species laws require Georgia to send drinking water downstream to Alabama and Florida, where officials oppose any additional decrease in water flow.
Georgia state officials have threatened legal action if the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers does not drastically cut the amount of water it releases from state lakes for agricultural and industrial use.
But Florida officials said low water levels already threaten the survival of endangered river mussels. And Alabama's governor doesn't believe Georgia should dictate its water flow.
"No state should have the ability to unilaterally go in and decide how much water any other state is going to get," said Alabama Gov. Bob Riley.