Today's lake level: 1070.88
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Nov. 20, 2018
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Heavy rains push Lanier nearly 4 feet above full pool in early June

By Pamela A. Keene
 
Heavier than normal rainfall in late May and into early June pushed water levels at Lake Lanier to above 1074.7 feet above mean sea level, nearly four feet above full summer pool. As a result the US Army Corps of Engineers adjusted its water release schedule to help alleviate the flooding.
 
It also closed several parks, beaches, boat ramps and campgrounds. Hall County followed suit, temporarily closing the beaches at River Forks Park and Lake Lanier Olympic Park. 
 
In early June, the Corps announced that it would begin 24/7 water releases. “We determined that we would continue this release schedule until the lake starts to come back down,” said Tim Rainey, operations project manager for Buford Dam and Lake Lanier. “We’ve also cautioned people to be aware of safety issues, particularly because of the ongoing releases. The water level can rise quickly, and the current is much more rapid.” 
 
The Chattahoochee River has been in “bank full” conditions, meaning that it may have reached flood stage. “The issue has been compounded because the ground is saturated and there wasn’t any room for additional run-off,” he explained. “Water releases don’t just affect Lake Lanier; they affect the whole ACF system, all the way to Apalachicola.” 
 
As the month progressed, the water level became lower, still hovering about one foot above full summer pool. 
 
As for management of the ACF system, public affairs officer Charles Walker provided the following information: 
 
“The project always releases water 24 hours a day,” Walker wrote in an email responding to questions from Lakeside. “We adjust the amount of the release based on downstream and upstream conditions. When Lake Lanier reached 1073, we had to increase the amount of our increases. The amount depended on conditions downstream. The goal was to get lake level back to normal summer pool without causing flooding downstream. 
 
“The downstream lakes were heading toward summer pool levels (at the time of start of the heavy rains),” he said. “West Point Lake has gone a little over a foot above summer pool level and Walter F. George will achieve summer pool level given the flow increases. The releases have not caused flooding or significant increases in downstream lake levels.” 
 
Walker provided information about the measurement of the water flow at the Apalachicola River. 
“The Apalachicola River flow is measured at the Blountstown, Florida, gauge,” he said. “On May 24 the river level was 7.53 and on May 25 it rose to 11.4. The highest level reached was 15.93 on June 1, which is .93 above flood stage. The maximum release from the Jim Woodruff Dam to the Apalachicola River was 50,000 cfs on May 31 and current release as of June 7 is 35,000 cfs. 
 
Rainey explained that the Corps is being vigilant about water levels and the accuracy of their reports. “We are watching the river and the gauges, comparing them to real-time photos at 10 different locations downstream,” he said. “As always, we will continue to monitor the conditions and make adjustments accordingly.”
 
He urged people to be cautious about swimming in the lake or going into the river. “We always try to make sure that swimming in designated areas is as safe as possible, but when the designated swimming areas and beaches are under water, people should use their own judgment. 
 
“And yes, heavy rain events can increase the pollution in a body of water, but Lanier is so big that the pollution is usually diluted enough that it’s not an issue. Just use your own judgment.” 
 
Rainey said that January 2016 was the last time Lake Lanier water levels were this high. “Usually this doesn’t happen during recreation season, and it’s very rare at this time of year.”


Question remains: Should lake’s full pool be raised by 2 feet?
 
In early June, officials from the Lake Lanier Association wrote to Brig. Gen. Diana Holland, commander of the Mobile District that oversees the ACF system. They requested the Corps curtail the 24/7 releases once the lake reached 1073. For several years, the organization has actively lobbied to raise the lake’s full pool to 1073.
 
The group’s June 1 letter also requested slowing down the rate of releases. “Although recent forecasts have proven inaccurate, there is little rain in the forecast for the foreseeable future,” wrote LLA President Wilton Rooks to the Mobile office. “Lanier has experienced many instances of high water in the past, and the current level (1073.92 at the time the letter was written) – while not ideal – is not at this time a cause for such a rapid return to 1071.” 
 
Earlier this summer, the association conducted a poll of its membership with two questions, one addressing the issue or raising the lake’s full-pool level to 1073. “Even though we are all feeling the pain of high water levels, that question still received an 82 percent favorable response,” wrote LLA Executive Director Joanna Cloud. 
 
“To look at the possibility of permanently raising the pool level at Lanier a Water Reallocation Study would have to be performed to determine the impacts of reallocating water from the flood pool to recreation,” said Charles Walker, public affairs officer with the Mobile District. “The study would look at many aspects such as the ability to manage flood waters with a higher level, impacts on recreation facilities, dock placements, marinas, shoreline impacts, and many other issues.”
 
The other question asked about support for adding red and green lights to mark the mouths of popular tributaries and creeks on the lake. More than 93 percent of the nearly 600 respondents said they agreed with the proposal. 
 
For more information about the association, visit lakelanier.org or call 770 503-7757.

Posted online 6/29/18
 
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