The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has approved a request from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to reduce the amount of water released from Buford Dam.
The corps maintains a minimum flow of 750 cubic feet per second in the Chattahoochee River at Peachtree Creek in order to dilute pollution from metro Atlanta. The EPD had asked the corps to cut the minimum flow requirement to 650 cfs to keep more water in Lake Lanier.
After reviewing more than 700 public comments about the proposal, the corps has agreed to set the minimum at 650 cfs until April 30.
EPD officials have estimated that this flow reduction could add more than 11 billion gallons of stored water in Lanier and add about 1 foot to the lake’s water level.
But that will only happen if Lanier’s watershed receives rain. This week, state climatologist David Stooksbury announced that most of North Georgia has slipped back into exceptional drought, the most severe category.
With only light mist being recorded Friday at Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport, the official recording station for the National Weather Service, Gainesville has received a scant 0.36 inch of rain since Tuesday. Severe thunderstorms were predicted overnight and there is a 50 percent chance of more showers today, according to the National Weather Service in Peachtree City.
Lanier is already at a record low for November — as of 7:15 p.m. Friday, the level was 1,051.64 feet above sea level, according to the U.S. Geological Survey Web site — and next month it is likely to surpass the all-time record low of 1,050.79 feet, set on Dec. 26, 2007. Normal full pool is 1,071 feet.
Corps spokesman Patrick Robbins said the reduced flow from Buford Dam will remain in effect during the cooler months but will be re-evaluated at the end of April. Once the weather warms up, he said, greater flow may be needed in the Chattahoochee in order to maintain water quality.
The corps’ announcement comes two days after Grier Todd, chief operating officer of Lake Lanier Islands, told attendees at a chamber of commerce meeting Wednesday that overall visitation to Lake Lanier had declined by 1 million visitors this year, due to a combination of low lake levels and the economy. Todd, who is also chairman of the 1071 Coalition, a newly formed lake advocacy group, said a top priority is to conduct a thorough economic impact study of the lake.
Times reporter Harris Blackwood contributed to this story.