The Times takes an in-depth look at Lake Lanier:
- Lanier is only about 6 feet below full pool, but what’s the outlook for summer?
- Business owners who depend on the lake for their livelihood are keeping their fingers crossed, and some already have seen business bounce back.
- Fisheries experts say the drought actually has made the fish population healthier.
- How many watercraft are registered in the counties bordering the lake? Would you believe 40,000?
- Splash, a summer leisure guide to fun in and around Lake Lanier.
Like the water level, the number of boating accidents, boating under the influence arrests and drownings in 2008 all were down on Lake Lanier from previous years.
With the water back up, authorities don’t expect those numbers to stay down.
In advance of this weekend’s traditional start of boating season, enforcement officers with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and their partners gathered Friday at Aqualand Marina to make a point: They’ll be out on the lake, and they want boaters to stay safe.
They also expect to see more traffic on the water than this time last year, when a drought-stricken Lake Lanier was well below full pool.
"We still had a lot of traffic, but it was not what we’re used to seeing," said DNR Cpl. Tim Vickery, a member of the law enforcement division’s lake patrol.
As of Friday afternoon, Lanier was at 1,065.46 feet above sea level, just six feet below full pool and eight feet higher than at Memorial Day last year.
Law enforcement on Lake Lanier worked 35 boating incidents, including four fatalities, and made 35 BUI arrests in 2008. That compares with 50 BUIs, 55 boating accidents and three boating fatalities in 2007. There were five drownings on the lake in 2008, eight the previous year.
As many as 5,000 watercraft could head out on Lanier this Memorial Day weekend, depending on the weather. Some operators will be so excited about getting their boat out for the first time they may forget to bring along the required life jackets, fire extinguisher or throwable flotation devices, Vickery said.
"They need to check for all those things before they leave the dock," he said. "We’ll loan them a life jacket, but we’ll also give them a ticket."
At least five DNR boats will patrol the lake during peak hours this weekend, with officers making spot checks for safety equipment and looking out for impaired boaters.
Sober driving coalition Team Georgia is promoting its "Designated Skipper" program at area retailers near the lake where alcoholic beverages are sold. Providing a written pledge to stay sober behind the wheel of a boat qualifies the participant for prizes.
Ron Fennel, chairman of Team Georgia, noted that the Georgia’s open container laws don’t apply to boating, meaning "we have to exert extra caution."
"You should know that with the sun beating down, the wind blowing and the boat rocking, you can become more impaired than if you’re sitting in your living room."
Flotilla 29 of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary conducts regular safe boating courses to familiarize both new boaters and old hands with the rules of the road. The next course, which is required for any boat operator or personal watercraft rider under age 16, is set for May 30.
Coast Guard Auxiliary spokesman Roy Crittenden said most people enjoy boating more "once they know all the rules."
Crittenden expects a dramatic uptick in lake traffic this year.
"I think it will be much higher," he said. "It’s already started."