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Corps: Dam held down flooding
Official claims damage could have been worse
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A view of the water from inside the Lower Pool East Buford Powerhouse at the Buford Dam in early August. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is saying that if not for Buford Dam, the Atlanta area would have suffered another $124 million in damage from the floods last week. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

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Jackie Joseph, president of Lake Lanier Association, talks about members’ reaction to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ management of Lake Lanier during recent heavy floods.

Remember when the fuss over Lake Lanier used to be about water supply?

These days, it is flood control and whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers mismanaged the lake in the recent heavy flooding that caused, according to Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, some $500 million in damage.

The latest salvo came Monday, when the corps said if not for Buford Dam being able to stem the full force of water flowing downstream, the Atlanta area would have chalked up $124 million more in damages.

"It is important to note that no dam provides full protection from flooding," said corps spokeswoman Lisa Coghlan. "Even the best flood structure cannot completely eliminate the risk of flooding."

"Flood risk management is a shared responsibility and partnership among, federal, state, local agencies and landowners," she added.

At the Chattahoochee River in Norcross, some 18 river miles downstream of Buford Dam, the dam reduced flood levels by "7« feet below that which would have occurred without the dam," Coghlan said.

At the Chattahoochee River at the Vinings gauge, Buford Dam reduced flood levels by 3.9 feet.

This gauge is just upstream of the Paces Ferry Bridge, 45 river miles downstream of Buford Dam and 2.5 miles upstream of Peachtree Creek, Coghlan said.

The corps has said it curtailed its operations on Sept. 19, allowing only minimal releases of about 670 cubic feet per second, Coghlan said.

Those releases, about 300,000 gallons per minute, were equal to less than an inch at a gauge 30 miles south of the dam in Vinings, according to the corps.

"Releasing from the small unit did not contribute to the localized flooding in the metro Atlanta area," Coghlan said.

Critics have charged that it didn’t help the situation either — that the corps shouldn’t have released any water during the flood.

"Any amount that was added to what was going down would have raised the river," Henry Rowe, who lives near Lake Lanier at Hall County’s Harbour Point subdivision, said in an interview last week.

Jackie Joseph, president of Lake Lanier Association, said Monday she has fielded many calls on the matter.

"The feeling is if that water had not gone downstream, (there’s) a good chance ... that we probably would not have had as much damage as actually was there," she said.

"Technically, I’m not sure I understand all of that, but I do know that flood control means you are supposed to, in my view, prevent downstream flooding."

Kent Frantz, senior service hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Peachtree City, said he believes the criticism toward the corps has been "very unfair."

The releases "couldn’t have changed the depths of the water by even a tenth of a foot, probably. ... I think people are just looking ... for somebody to blame, and there is nobody to blame," he said. "All the heavy rain, predominantly, was downstream from Buford Dam."

Coghlan has said the flow out of large dams is rarely halted completely due to adverse impacts on river environments.

The small unit generates power for the dam and project offices and "assisted in maintaining viable conditions for essential habitat below the dam," Coghlan said.

Curtailed releases will continue "until downstream flows have receded," Coghlan said.

At that point, releases "will resume to meet downstream minimum flow requirements for water quality in the Chattahoochee River at Peachtree Creek in Atlanta and to meet (Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin) requirements," she said.

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