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Lanier advocates oppose increased water flows

Corps’ decision could hurt lake, economy, groups say

POSTED: April 24, 2009 11:49 p.m.

Two Lake Lanier advocacy groups are upset with a decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to resume regular water discharges from Buford Dam into the Chattahoochee River.

Val Perry, executive vice president of the Lake Lanier Association, said the organization planned to register a complaint with the corps over the issue.

"It appalls me that even though we’re still 7and a half feet down, they have decided to release more water and let it (the lake level) come down further," Perry said.

Perry said he would like some explanation of the science involved in the decision to release additional water from the lake.

Carol Couch, director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division who
successfully sought reduced releases from the lake from November through April 30, did not make that request this time. She said sending less water down the river as the weather gets warmer in May could harm the trout population.

But Perry said he did not see the merit of the increased releases, especially when the lakes and rivers that Lanier feeds are within a few feet of their full levels, if not above them.

"The summer months are approaching, and in the past, they always tried to get to full pool by June 1," Perry said. "This almost guarantees we’ll not even get close to it."

Perry said the improved lake level, at 1,063.65 feet above sea level as of Friday afternoon, remains unsafe, and that the drought’s damage to North Georgia’s economy, including damage to the business at marinas around the lake, has not improved.

Grier Todd, chairman of the 1071 Coalition lake advocacy group, said the organization was not told of Couch’s decision and had written letters in support of extended the current plan until the end of May.

"We were gaining a lot of ground in terms of lake level in the past couple of months," said Todd, who is also chief operating officer of Lake Lanier Islands Resort.

"I know we had a lot of rain, but the reduced flow was a big part of those gains," he said. "I’m just afraid its going to stem the momentum we’ve had in getting the lake back up to full pool."

The last time the lake reached the full pool level, 1,071 feet above mean sea level, was Sept. 6, 2005. The level came within half a foot of full pool on April 2, 2006.

The following year, the lake averaged just over 1,068 feet during March, April and May of 2007.

That summer, the drought began to take its toll on the lake. In September, state officials enacted outdoor watering bans. On Dec. 26, 2007, the lake reached a record low of 1,050.79 feet.

Kit Dunlap, chairman of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District, said the district board had also supported the 30-day extension of reduced flows from Lanier.

Dunlap, who is also CEO of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said the municipalities that make up the district are fully aware that the drought may be subsiding, but there remains a need for conservation.

"By law, we have to update our water plan this year," Dunlap said. "In the draft of the plan, there are further conservation measures."

The plan will be voted on at the district’s May meeting.



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