A nasty drought in the U.S. Southeast that began in early 2006 has local politicians sweating and meteorologists and climatologists predicting more of the same. The situation is particularly notable around Atlanta, Ga., where the water source for some 3 million people, Lake Lanier, could dry up completely in as little as 90 days if conditions don’t improve. In North Carolina, where 86 of 100 counties are experiencing the two most severe categories of drought — “extreme” and “exceptional” — Gov. Mike Easley is still relying on voluntary measures to cut water use, but he’s stepped up the rhetoric. “I need every single community and every single individual in North Carolina to do everything they can to save every drop of water they can,” he said. “A bit of mud on the car or patches of brown on the lawn must be a badge of honor. It means you are doing the right thing for your community and our state.” Overall, about 26 percent of the U.S. Southeast is experiencing the worst category of drought, according to the National Weather Service. If the extremely dry conditions persist, some areas may impose mandatory water restrictions on homes as well as businesses.