Gov. Sonny Perdue has ordered north Georgia businesses and utilities to cut their water usage by 10 percent to conserve the state's dwindling water supply during one of the worst droughts in state history.

The cuts apply to the 61 north Georgia counties. The order, announced Tuesday, leaves it up to each system to decide how to restrict water, and exempts agricultural users.

"I encourage all Georgians to make their dry lawns and dirty cars a badge of honor," Perdue, a Republican, said.

The move is another conservation step that Georgia has taken in recent weeks with water levels at all-time lows. Virtually all outdoor watering through north Georgia was banned in September, and Perdue urged residents to take shorter showers.

The new reductions are to be in place by Nov. 1, and the state Environmental Protection Division will impose fines on those don't comply. Environmentalists welcomed the restrictions, but questioned why the cuts weren't ordered earlier.

Almost a third of the Southeast is covered by an "exceptional" drought — the worst drought category. The Atlanta area, with a population of 5 million, is in the middle of the affected region, which includes most of Tennessee, Alabama and the northern half of Georgia, as well as parts of North and South Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia.

State climate experts say the drought is so severe, one like it typically develops only once in 100 years.

With a dry winter in the forecast and less than 80 days of stored water left in Lake Lanier, the north Georgia reservoir that supplies water to about 3 million residents, Perdue warned more restroctopms could be on the way.

The governor asked President Bush on Saturday to order less water be released from federal reservoirs in Georgia and declare the region a federal disaster area — a move that was seconded on Tuesday by the Georgia delegation in Washington.

A disaster declaration would be an unusual move by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which said the last time the federal government made such a declaration for a drought was in 1977.