May 27, 2017 Buford - (Foreground from left) Ananya Banerjee, Mel Case and Darby Ford enjoy the fun and sun at Sunset Cove on Lake Lanier on Saturday, May 27, 2017. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Lake Lanier advocates ask Georgia to keep drought restrictions in place

The Lake Lanier area and several northeast Georgia counties are still under significant drought restrictions — and one advocacy group wants to keep it that way.

The Lake Lanier Association, a nonprofit that tasks itself with “protecting the quality and quantity" of water at its man-made namesake, released Sunday a page-long statement urging Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division not to downgrade the Lanier area and surrounding counties from their current Level 2 drought designation

MORE: Just how deadly is Lake Lanier?

MORE: Why is so little of Lake Lanier in Gwinnett County?

That designation, which limits water use for things like washing cars and irrigation, was put in place for much of Georgia’s northern half in November and has remained active for 12 counties: Cobb, Coweta, DeKalb, Douglas, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Habersham, Hall, Lumpkin, Paulding and White. All of those counties (and many others) rely on Lake Lanier for drinking water.

Joanna Cloud, the executive director of the Lake Lanier Association, said removing the current drought restrictions would only continue to put metro Atlanta’s water supply at risk. 

Despite the summer’s recurrent rains — and the corresponding gains — Lanier is still about six feet below full pool. In July, Gwinnett officials said that was the lowest level for the time of year since 2012.

“By reducing the drought level from a Level 2,” Cloud wrote in her group’s statement, “the signal would be sent to all water users ... that there is no more need to conserve water, while just the opposite is the case.” 

MORE: Security cameras OK’d for private Lake Lanier docks

It was not immediately clear if the EPD is in fact considering downgrading the drought restrictions. Kevin Chambers, an EPD spokesman, did not directly answer that question when it was posed to him Monday, but said the agency “constantly monitors multiple drought indicators, including rainfall, streamflow, groundwater levels, reservoir levels and soil moisture.”

All of those indicators have shown “significant” improvement in recent months, Chambers said. 

“The condition of Lake Lanier is an important indicator, which EPD monitors very closely, and will consider prior to any change in the drought response level,” he wrote in an email to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Regardless of drought level, EPD always reminds water users of the benefits of water conservation and urges all Georgians to be good stewards of our water resources.”

Lake Lanier, a 38,000-acre reservoir created by the building of the Buford Dam, and the Chattahoochee River have been front and center in the still-ongoing “water wars” between Georgia, Florida and Alabama. Georgia won a major battle in that war in February, when a special master handling the case urged the U.S. Supreme Court not to restrict the state’s water consumption.

In June, Florida asked the Supreme Court to ignore that recommendation.

Lanier, meanwhile, has not been at full pool since the spring of 2016, Cloud said. 

“We urge all agencies to adopt a strategy of keeping Lake Lanier as full as possible at all times due to the critical dependency on the lake for metro Atlanta water supply and downstream water requirements,” her group’s statement said. “Coming out of a drought is not a smooth process.”

Visit the EPD’s website for more details about the current drought restrictions.

Even though lake levels have risen about four feet since New Year's Day, the waterline has still receded significantly from many lakefront homes.

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