Today's lake level: 1065.67
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Aug. 19, 2017
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Water update

Rain, rain everywhere, but not many drops to fill Lanier
By Pamela A. Keene
 
All the recent afternoon pop-up showers and even some torrential downpours seem to have had little to no effect on the water levels at Lake Lanier. But there’s a reason – in fact several – for that. 
 
“A number of factors contribute to how much the lake levels will rise,” said policy director, Chris Manganiello, water policy director for the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. “From the amount and location of the rainfall to the daytime temperatures and evaporation, these are just a couple of the reasons that the lake levels don’t come up just because it’s been raining.”
 
James Hathorn, chief of water management for the Mobile District, concurs. He explained that there’s not really a direct correlation between the amount of rainfall and a specific increase in lake levels. “Several factors such as plant growth and the seasonal rainfall patterns contribute to the volume of runoff,” Hathorn said. “The highest run-off occurs in early spring (April) and lowest late summer (July-September). During extreme droughts, runoff from a 1-inch rainfall event can be less than 10 percent.” 
 
Here are other contributing factors, according to the Corps:
  • The distribution of the rainfall – the greater the extent of the rainfall above the dam the more volume of water available to flow into the reservoir.
  • The soil state prior to the rainfall – the wetter the soil the more water available to convert to runoff and flow into the reservoir.
  • The time of year, the amount (or percentage) of the rainfall that actually contributes to streamflow varies on a seasonal basis.
  • The amount of water being released from the dam – i.e., if the amount of water released from the dam is less than what is flowing in, the reservoir will rise.”
 
Manganiello also cited the severe drought of 2016. “White, Lumpkin and Habersham counties were in extreme drought last year and they’re where the majority of Lanier’s watershed is located. Starting in May 2016 through the fall and into the spring of 2017, the rainfall was dramatically below normal, affecting the flow of both the Chattahoochee and Chestatee rivers, the lake’s main tributaries.”
 
The Riverkeeper spokesperson also said that transpiration, the process of plants absorbing water to live and grow, is a factor. “Plants’ and trees’ need for water affects how much run off makes it to the lake,” Manganiello said. “But also with the number of days we’ve been having with temperatures greater than 90 degrees, the more rapidly the water evaporates from the lake’s surface.” 
 
The Corps does a balancing act between all the parts of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, from providing the minimum water flow amounts at certain points along the system from Lake Lanier to the Gulf of Mexico as required by law.
 
Currently, Buford and much of the area surrounding Lanier is now under Level 2 drought restrictions. This means that:
  • Outdoor watering is restricted to twice a week with even numbered and no numbered addresses watering only on Wednesdays and Saturdays or odd-numbered addresses watering only on Thursdays and Sundays. Watering can only take place before 12 a.m. to after 4 p.m.
     
Please check your local government agency websites for complete details regarding watering restrictions.
 
“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ goal is to refill the Lake Lanier reservoir each year to the summer level of 1,071,” Hathorn said. “The reservoir level has increased 4.6 feet since mid-March when rainfall in the basin returned to near normal. The combination of conservative operation and increased rainfall has resulted in higher levels at the reservoir. Continual rainfall above the dam needs to occur to refill the reservoir to the summer target level of 1071. The limited size of the watershed above Buford Dam results in prolonged periods to refill the reservoir.”

Georgia reply to water lawsuit was expected last month
By Jane Harrison
 
Georgia’s legal team was expected to counter Florida’s plea for U.S. justices to scuttle a court appointee’s recommendations about water allocation in the two states. Georgia attorneys had until July 31 to respond to Florida’s request to decline a Special Master report issued after more than three years of legal wrangling.
 
Florida initiated the federal lawsuit in Oct. 2013, accusing Georgia of hoarding water on the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system and thus drying out oyster fisheries in Apalachicola Bay. Lake Lanier is the largest reservoir on the river system that stretches from the North Georgia mountains to the Gulf of Mexico.
 
Special Master Ralph Lancaster denied Florida’s claims that limiting Georgia’s water consumption would fix water woes downstream. His report, filed Feb. 14, indicated that Florida erred in not targeting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which controls the release of water from five dams on the rivers.
 
Georgia officials hailed Lancaster’s recommendation for the court to deny Florida’s claims; however his report did not leave Georgia blameless. He stated that the Peach State allowed nearly unrestricted irrigation on Georgia farms and that metro Atlanta was slow to set restrictions when drought threatened in 2012.
 
In its May 31 exception to Lancaster’s report, Florida claimed that denial of the special master’s ruling is the last remaining legal remedy to save the Apalachicola region from devastation. The legal team claimed that Lancaster erred in concluding that uncertainties in Corps’ operations prevented him from apportioning water from Georgia to Florida. Attorneys pointed to a Corps’ document that stated the Corps would consider adjustments to its water release operations pending a Supreme Court decision.
 
Georgia attorneys expected to refute Florida’s claims and defend Lancaster’s recommendations.

Florida has until Aug. 31 to counter Georgia’s reply. Justices are expected to consider the case in its October 2017 term, which runs through September 2018. The Court’s rulings historically concur with special masters’ recommendations, but occasionally render exceptions based on states’ arguments. Each state has tallied upward of $40 million in the legal battle. 

Posted online 7/31/17; update 8/3/17
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