Homeowners group wants Lanier's level higher

A homeowners group is renewing its campaign to raise the level of Lake Lanier 2 feet so the lake can store another 26 billion gallons of water to quench the demand of a metro area that grows thirstier by the day.

“This will solve a lot of water issues a lot faster and a lot cheaper than other proposals, such as building new reservoirs,” said Joanna Cloud, executive director of the Lake Lanier Association, which represents about 2,000 homeowners on the lake.

The renewed push to raise the optimum lake level from 1071 to 1073 feet is timed to two events, Cloud said:

-- The approval Wednesday by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources board of a new rule that may make the interbasin transfer of water -- and the building of new reservoirs -- easier. This effort is backed by Gov. Nathan Deal, who wants to set aside $46 million in his proposed budget to spur the building of  reservoirs.

-- A hearing scheduled March 9 in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta, where attorneys for the Lake Lanier Association, the state and Gwinnett County will argue that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should alter its operation of Lake Lanier, which limits its use as a water supply.

Raising the level of the lake is “not without cost,” Cloud said Thursday. It would require that some of the estimated 10,000 docks and electrical boxes at marinas be raised and probably at least one bridge across the northern part of the lake be replaced.

“We think a grant program could take care of some of those expenses,” she said.

Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Teri Pope said she’s not sure what bridge might have to be replaced. “We have probably 20 to 30 bridges across the lake,” she said.

In any case, the issue wouldn't be whether the bridge would be flooded if the lake rises 2 feet, Pope said. No bridge is that low to the water. The  problem would be accommodating boats that pass under the lower bridges, she said.

In 2007, when the Lake Lanier Association first publicized its plan to raise the lake level, the Georgia Senate passed a resolution asking Congress and the Corps of Engineers to study the costs and effects. Four years later, there’s been no such study because Congress hasn’t requested one, Corps spokesman Pat Robbins said.

If Congress did, Robbins said, the Corps would have to look at every imaginable result of raising the lake --  from the impact on docks to flood control. That would take at least a year or two, he estimated.

“It sounds good, but it’s not as easy as saying, ‘Hey, let’s raise the lake 2 feet,'” Robbins said.

Kit Dunlap, chairwoman of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District, welcomed Deal's pledge to pour more money into North Georgia reservoir development.

"It would give more assurance in the long term of drinking water for North Georgia citizens, including metro Atlanta," she said.

But at least one group is less enthusiastic.

April Ingle, executive director of the Georgia River Network, said the state's own water conservation act has better and more immediate ways to stabilize North Georgia's water supply. One example, she said, is the requirement that all municipalities search for and fix leaks in their water lines.

"We're hearing that some of those leak rates that utilities are finding run as high as 30 percent," Ingle said. "It doesn't make any sense whatsoever to invest millions in building reservoirs when much of the water is lost to leaks in the lines. We need to focus on using the water we have more efficiently."