More water from Lake Lanier and West Point Lake will be released beginning next week to help deal with droughts in western Georgia, eastern Alabama and northwestern Florida, the U.S. Corps of Engineers said Friday.
The releases, however, will come at a time when both lakes will still be in their driest months of the year, and lower levels could pose dangers to boaters traveling in the shallower waters.
The Corps said Friday the area known as the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin continues to deal with major drought conditions, prompting the need for more water from Lanier and West Point to flow into the Chattahoochee, one of three main waterways in the basin’s more than 19,300 square miles. The others are the Flint and Apalachicola rivers.
“Quite frankly, we’re in a sustained drought and we need rain,” Corps spokeswoman Lisa Parker told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Normally the rainy months are November through January and that’s when we’re hoping the lakes will replenish.”
The 38,000-acre Lake Lanier has been at the heart of a tri-state battle over water between Georgia, Alabama and Florida. Georgia’s neighbors have argued in court for more releases to benefit recreation and fishing industries, while Georgia has argued for fewer releases so it can meet the growing drinking water needs of its residents.
The Corps currently releases 1,100 cubic feet of water per second at Lake Lanier and 2,100 to 2,300 cubic feet of water per second at West Point to help meet the region’s water needs, Parker said. Beginning Monday, the release from Lanier will be increased to 2,500 cubic feet per second and West Point’s release will rise to 3,500 cubic feet per second.
Both Lake Lanier and West Point are currently about 10 feet below the level they normally are this time of year. The Corps said Lanier is expected to begin dropping up to half-a-foot more a week and West Point Lake may drop up to a foot more a week over the next few weeks.
Joanna Cloud, executive director of the Lake Lanier Association, said the group has been expecting more water to be released from Lanier because of the drought. Cloud, however, said its harder for Lanier to make up for the lost water because it doesn’t benefit as quickly from rain and runoff in North Georgia, compared with other lakes farther south.
“It’s very hard for Lanier to recover versus West Point, where one big rain can help it fill back up more quickly than Lanier can,” Cloud said. “We certainly would like to see the Corps incorporate that [fact] in their planning.”
Parker said the releases are needed because of low water levels at two other major lakes farther south, Lake Seminole in southwest Georgia on the state line with Florida and Walter F. George Lake on Georgia’s border with Alabama. The Flint River, suffering record-low levels, also is not contributing as much water as it has in the past, which means the deficit has to be made up by the Chattahoochee.
The Chattahoochee and Flint rivers converge at Lake Seminole to form the Apalachicola River. The Apalachicola then flows south through the Florida panhandle into Apalachicola Bay, which discharges into the Gulf of Mexico.
The lower lake levels mean boaters should take extra precautions.
“They’re going to see an impact at the boat ramps,” Parker said. “You’re going to see lower elevations all throughout the lake.”
Cloud said fewer boaters should be be affected by the lower level at Lanier because the peak season for boating is over.
“There are still a lot of boaters out there, but in terms of the summer traffic, fortunately we’re past that.”
Boaters, however, should still be on the lookout for shallow areas and underwater rocks, stumps and trees, the Corps said.