Lake Lanier has a deadly reputation, and an examination of the statistics suggests it's warranted.
Since 1994, northeast Georgia's favorite manmade lake — which touches parts of Gwinnett, Hall, Forsyth, Dawson and Lumpkin counties — has seen at least 160 people die.
That's according to official statistics maintained by the Department of Natural Resources, which include boating-related fatalities and drownings (though drowning statistics were not kept between 1994 and 1998). The numbers also do not include an unofficial tally of this year's incidents, which include at least two deaths.
This year's deaths include those of a Buford man who drowned in February and ajet skier from Cumming who drowned after a crash in April.
In 2016, Lake Lanier saw 17 deaths, including nine drownings and eight boating-related fatalities.
DNR statistics also track drownings, boating fatalities, boating under the influence and other "boating incidents" that occur at each of the eight key lakes the agency patrols: Allatoona, Blackshear, Clarks Hill, Hartwell, Jackson, Lanier, Oconee and Sinclair. During the five years from 2011 to 2015, Lake Lanier had the lion's share of each category:
• Drownings: 32 of 65, or 49.2 percent, occured on Lake Lanier.
• Boating fatalities: 20 of 33, 0r 60.6 percent, occurred on Lake Lanier.
• BUIs: 265 of 584, or 45.4 percent, occurred on Lake Lanier.
• Total boating incidents: 174 of 342, or 50.8 percent, occurred on Lake Lanier.
DNR spokesman Mark McKinnon attributed Lake Lanier's incident rate to the sheer number of visitors it draws.
"There are simply more incidents on Lanier due to the volume of visitors," McKinnon told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last year. "Lanier has many more boaters and swimmers than any other lake in the state, including Allatoona."
That said, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that Lanier welcomes about 7.5 million visitors each year, while Allatoona, in northwest Georgia, sees around 7 million. That's about a 7 percent difference — but over the decade that ended in 2015, twice as many people have died on Lanier (90) as Allatoona (45).Lake Lanier, then, has a rate of about 1.2 deaths per one million visitors. Allatoona has about 0.64 deaths per one million visitors.
In lieu of a definitive root of Lanier's problems, swimmers and boaters are urged to exercise caution on the water.
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