By Matthew Bigg
ORME, Tennessee (Reuters) - A small town tucked away in the mountains of southern Tennessee is getting by on just a few hours of water a day because its spring has run dry in the drought sweeping the Southeast.
The worst drought to hit the region in decades prompted Georgia to impose water-use restrictions including a ban on outdoor residential watering.
It has also sparked a political battle between Georgia, Alabama and Florida over how to share water from north Georgia's Lake Lanier, which serves cities such as Atlanta as well as industries and a nuclear power plant
But rural Orme with its population of just 140 people has become a symbol of the drought because few other places appear to have been so directly hit.
Each evening, residents wait for Mayor Tony Reames to make the short drive from his home where he keeps chickens up to a water tower on a wooded hill above the town to open a valve.
When the water is flowing families can fill buckets and water jars, do laundry, take showers and wash dishes before the faucets run dry and they wait for the next evening.
Resident Julie Hoover described Orme as a "hideaway" and a "piece of heaven" because it was safe and everyone knew each other but she said the water shortage had created serious problems.
"People don't like change and they don't like losing their water," said Hoover, who started filling up buckets with water draining from an air-conditioner to get water to flush toilets when the spring ran dry in August.
Hoover and her sisters have also taken to cooking one big family meal for all their children to save water, something she said had proved a blessing.
HELP AT HAND
Sporadic water supply is the norm for much of the world's population but for Orme, near the border of Alabama and Georgia, help is at hand. Local businesses and churches donate bottled water, bringing it to the town's one-room fire house for residents to collect.
Orme received a $377,590 grant from the Department of Agriculture plus a further grant of $229,000 to build a water pipe from Bridgeport, Alabama, to the town's water tower, Reames said.
Workmen laying down sections of the bright blue pipe beneath the side of a road leading to the town move closer each day.
A century ago, Orme was a bustling coal mining town with a railroad running down the main street but when the coal industry left, the town declined. Many residents are now elderly and average per capita income is around $15,000, according to government figures.
Reames, 48, said he had spent his whole life in the town, which has two small churches, no school, no shops and no cell phone service.
In the past, a creek and a waterfall fed the town but the creek dried up years ago and the waterfall slowed to a trickle in August, exposing a fissure in the rock that leads down to a big network of caves, residents said.
"Back then you could ride ponies and horses up on the mountains and you didn't need to go half a mile and you would find a stream," Reames said, adding: "A person don't know what they have got till it's gone."
Orme votes mainly Democratic, but the town's water problems had made the 2008 presidential election and other national issues seem less important, according to Reames.
"This (drought) ain't nothing more than a disaster. I ain't saying he (President George W. Bush) shouldn't be giving money to other countries but he has a problem right here."
(Editing by Eddie Evans)