At last, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is bringing Lake Lanier into the 21st century.
The agency is holding a series of public meetings as it prepares to update the water control manual for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system, which includes Lanier.
Georgia, Florida and Alabama, which share the ACF watershed, have changed significantly since Lake Lanier was built in the 1950s. But the water control manual hasn’t changed at all, and for years politicians and lake advocates have been calling for the corps to modernize the rules.
That process is now under way. The corps is compiling an environmental impact statement for the ACF manual, and people are invited to give their opinions on what it should include.
Public meetings were held last week in Apalachicola, Fla.; Dothan, Ala.; LaGrange; and Marietta. The final meeting will be in Gainesville from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Georgia Mountains Center.
"It’s open-house style, with no presentations," said Lisa Coghlan, spokeswoman for the corps’ district office in Mobile, Ala.
Tables will be set up with exhibits on various topics, such as wildlife protection, socioeconomic impact, recreation and water quality.
"You’ll go from station to station, talk with corps personnel, ask questions," Coghlan said. "We’ll have a computer station set up so you can give your comments right there, via the Internet, and we’ll also have a court reporter if you want to give comments verbally."
Those who cannot attend the meeting may submit comments by mail or e-mail until Nov. 21.
Coghlan said the comments will be released on the corps’ Web site by the end of the year. She expects a draft environmental impact statement will be ready by late 2009 or early 2010. Then there will be public meetings on that
document before a final EIS is written. The entire process is expected to last until 2011.
Coghlan said the new manual will set guidelines for how much water is stored and released from the ACF’s reservoirs. "It will take into account things that were not considered when the original manual was written, such as growth and development and drought," she said.
Vicki Barnhorst, executive director of the Lake Lanier Association, said the lake advocacy group is urging members to attend the meeting.
"We’re hoping for a big turnout," she said.
Many association members believe the corps is sending too much water down to Apalachicola in Florida and is not leaving enough water in Lanier. Val Perry, vice president of the lake association, wants the new manual to address that situation.
"We are hopeful that they will consider Lanier as part of the plan instead of just as the source of the water," he said. "We’d like Lanier to have at least equal consideration. We want to make sure that the corps understands that there are a lot of people up here who are very concerned about the lake."
Lanier currently is at a record low for this time of year — 18 feet below normal full pool. That’s mostly because of an extreme drought now in its third year.
But Perry said he’s frustrated that on those rare occasions when it does rain, the corps seems to release more water from Buford Dam.
"The corps should try to get Lanier as full as possible during the rainy season," he said. "That’s not currently part of the plan."