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Lake Lanier at full pool after summer rains end 10 year drought
Wes Frey, right, and dog Copper prepare for an afternoon of fishing on Lake Lanier with Rick Watkins. To Frey’s delight, the lake has remained at full pool through the summer and even into fall.

For the first time in 10 years, residents and visitors to Lake Lanier have enjoyed an entire summer with a full lake.

According to data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the lake, the last time it consistently stayed above summer full pool of 1,071 feet above sea level was between May and August was in 2003.

The lake has been at summer full pool since April 27, when winter full pool of 1,070 feet was still in effect. The lake reached its peak this year on May 7 at 1,073.67 feet.

As of 7 a.m. Monday, the lake was still above full pool at 1,0714.69 feet. On Oct. 1 last year, the lake was at 1,060.89 feet.

The corps soon will start bringing the lake level down to adjust it to the winter full pool level. The lake is expected to reach winter full pool around Dec. 1. The level is dropped to make room for collecting spring rains and to prevent flood damage.

The lake’s lowest point was on Dec. 26, 2008, at 1,050.79 feet. Before this summer, the lake had not been at full pool since July 2005.

Lisa Parker, deputy public affairs officer for the corps’ Mobile, Ala., district, said after years of drought the amount of rain this summer is to thank for the lake’s dramatic rise to fullness.

“There’s always fluctuations, but normally they’re not as severe as we’ve seen them in the last five or six years,” Parker said. “Once again, we went through a drought for a number of years and we recently came out of it because of the rain events, thank goodness.”

July brought more than 14 inches of rain to the area, 10 more inches than July of last year.

While the full lake is more attractive than it has been in years, the higher water level has its own challenges.

“Whenever you get around 1,071 you start having some impacts around the lake,” Parker said. “People begin to not to be able to use their piers or boat ramps because the elevations are rising so some of them won’t be able to get out to their piers.

“Then also the bulkheads typically will be damaged with high sustained water levels as well. It has its side effects. It was a welcome relief to everyone who was recreating this summer to have higher elevations. You know if you put a boat in the water and you went out. But for some of the homeowners around the lake it wasn’t such a good thing.”

Joanna Cloud, executive director of the Lake Lanier Association, said she thinks everyone is happy about the full lake but said some homeowners might have had trouble with the changing levels.

Cloud said it’s particularly challenging for homeowners to move docks in and out to adjust to the water levels.

“If you don’t move your dock as the lake levels go up and down you’re going to incur damage or one thing that can happen if your dock gets down to dry land is the Styrofoam billets can break and fall off the docks,” Cloud said.

Cloud said the billets are often found floating around the lake and, because they can be very heavy, often have to be picked up from the lake with a forklift.

She said volunteers with the group’s annual Shore Sweep event last weekend had to work around and clean up several areas affected by higher water levels.

Shoreline erosion and falling trees have also been an issue.

“That’s a concern for everyone around the lake, it affects the beauty of the lake, it affects safety,” Cloud said.

Cloud said the organization supports raising the lake’s summer full pool to 1,073 feet. She said the higher level would store an additional 26 billion gallons of water.

Cloud said summers such as this one are an opportunity to see what a higher level would look like over a longer period of time.

“Lake Lanier has been at 1,073 over 300 times in its history,” Cloud said. “We’ve got a good book of knowledge of what it looks like at 1,073. There are fewer unknowns in terms of bringing Lanier up. We feel like it’s a good idea to at least research it more.”

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