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Full for now: Summer heat could affect Lanier

POSTED: July 5, 2009 12:30 a.m.
Scott Rogers/The Times

Martin Docks employees Vince Brown, right, and Donny Sosebee prepare a submerged dock ramp to be moved onto dry land Wednesday afternoon on Old Stringer Road. Rising water levels made the dock nearly unusable for the owners.

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After a rainy spring, Lake Lanier has filled up, to the delight of businesses and users alike.

But after a steamy, mostly dry June, Gainesville-Hall County is back to a rainfall deficit — although a slight one —  and slowly dropping lake levels.

Lanier, which was at 1,066.15 feet above sea level at 5 p.m. Friday, reached this year's peak on June 17, when it hit 1066.71 feet. The last time Lanier was at full pool of 1,071 feet or more was Sept. 6, 2005.

"With the temperatures being above normal as they have been for the last couple of weeks and no rain, evaporation rates are tremendous," said Pam Knox, assistant state climatologist. "And that's evaporation off both plants and the lake.

"When we do get to a point of getting rain in the watershed, it could be that the first several inches may not even make it into the lake because they're going to be soaking back into the soil."

About the time the recent weather pattern began, state officials were declaring the end of the two-year drought that drained Lanier to an all-time low of 1,050.79 feet on Dec. 26, 2007 - down 17 feet in seven months.

The state has eased watering restrictions and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced last month that it is lifting a moratorium on issuing new boat dock permits. The corps, however, has yet to announce the permit application process.

By Memorial Day, the lake had risen to 1,065 feet, with all of Lanier's parks and boat ramps open for what was the unofficial start to the summer season.

State climatologist David Stooksbury has said a continuing pattern of wetter-than-normal weather over the summer will help but won't guarantee decent levels, largely because hotter weather means more evaporation.

"If we have a normal summer, the soils will start to dry out, but ... this is not a precursor to a drought," he said.

Just as wet weather may have hampered some Memorial Day plans, a string of bright, sunny days has brought a throng of fun seekers to Lake Lanier.

Chris Lovelady, natural resource manager at Buford Dam, said Wednesday that the corps was gearing up a busy July Fourth weekend.

With the lake up, the sun out and July Fourth falling on a Saturday, the weekend has the perfect recipe for crowds.

"We may see more visitors than we have the past two years," Lovelady said. "All the ranger staff will be working. We'll be putting up our ‘No parking' tape ... to keep people from parking all in the grass and the woods and that type of thing.

"We're looking for a good crowd Saturday and Sunday. Lake Lanier Islands' fireworks will be on Saturday, so we'll plan for that."
Lovelady said the lake's higher elevation does have some negative consequences.

"When the lake is full, you've got very little beach and plenty of swim area," he said. "And at some of our parks, the majority of their uses is on those beaches.

"So, when the lake is down, you have more people to put on the beach and for people to spread out, and you still have some area to swim in, inside the buoy line."

A higher Lanier has benefited lake businesses, which had been hammered by the drought as well as the failing economy. Another bright spot this summer is gas prices are not nearly as high as they were this time last year.

"The lake being up definitely drives the dock business and really the economy (of counties) around the lake," said Glenn Martin, owner of Martin Docks off Dawsonville Highway in West Hall.

"People don't really take that into consideration. When you start thinking about all the recreational uses of the lake, you consider all the businesses that are affected - not only in the boating dock industry, but also the fuel stations, the restaurants, the marinas, all those types of things."

The Lake Lanier Shoreline Management Plan and accompanying Environmental Impact Statement completed in 2004 limited the number of boat docks on the lake to 10,615.

Lanier now has about 174 remaining boat dock permits available.

"The corps will set up a process that will give everyone an equal opportunity to submit their request in a simple way," the agency said in a June news release.

Martin said he focuses on dock repairs and replacement, adding that people who had their docks on dry land during the drought might want to get them looked at professionally now that levels are up.

"It was never designed to be on dry land," he said. "... Even if it's not a cosmetic issue, there could be structural damage that could be insignificant right now and very inexpensive to maintain or repair, where it's going to cause major problems into the future."

Higher levels have spurred more boating activity on the lake, creating concern among some dock owners.

Boat and personal watercraft are getting close to docks and creating plenty of wake. All watercraft are required to run at idle speed within 100 feet of a dock or a vessel outside of normal traffic areas.

"It's like kids after Christmas getting their toys back," said Ann Wewers, a dock owner who lives off Chestatee Road in northwest Hall. "But there are still rules out there too."

She and her husband, Randy, notice watercraft approaching their dock, where their pontoon boat is anchored, mainly on the weekends.

"It's a pretty big cove and (personal watercraft riders) make doughnuts round and round (in the water)," Wewers said.

Still, she is glad to see the water has returned and her view of the lake restored.

During the drought, "our whole cove was dry," Wewers said. "For a long time, it was looking like this is it from now on."




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