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Lake stayed close to full in past year
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It took four years, but Lake Lanier finally hit the magic number - 1,071 feet above sea level - one year ago today.

Since then, water levels have bobbed around that mark, never falling too far, even as drought conditions began to creep back on the heels of a scorching, bone-dry summer.

"I got to hand it to 'em," said Alex Laidlaw, president of the 1071 Coalition that formed during the height of the drought, referring to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"They've done a pretty good job of managing the water, certainly this summer and through this whole dry period."

Laidlaw, vice president of Westrec Marinas, added, "I'm standing out here looking at my basin right now and we're in great shape."

Lisa Coghlan, a Mobile, Ala.-based spokeswoman for the corps, said responsible water management means releasing "the minimum required flows to meet water quality and environmental needs downstream, thus preserving as much water in the lake as possible."

"Lake Lanier has performed its necessary function by balancing the demands for hydropower, navigation, waste management, environmental requirements and water quality for users downstream," she added.

Times weren't always so good for the lake, its users or the businesses that surround the vast reservoir.

A two-year drought that ended last year drained Lanier to a historic low of 1,050.79 feet.

The 1071 Coalition formed as a group of business and community leaders pushing to ensure that future management practices keep Lanier full.

Other advocates, including Val Perry of the Lake Lanier Association, have urged that the government consider a full pool of 1,073 feet, to help hedge against future droughts and create an ample water supply.

An El Nino weather ocean atmosphere pattern then took hold in late 2009, producing a wetter, colder winter than usual.

Water levels never fell below the winter full pool of 1,070 feet.

"The corps manages the projects as a systemwide approach," Coghlan said. "By doing so, we drop the lower projects or lakes more often because they are replenished by frequent rain events.

"Last year, the weather cooperated and we were able to manage most of the projects in (higher conservation) zones."

As spring turned to summer, broiling temperatures - but not much rainfall - followed.

The Hall County area has a 7-inch rainfall deficit for the year.

And a La Niña atmosphere pattern in play for the eastern U.S. could mean drier, warmer than usual months ahead - perhaps into the spring.

It "has developed very quickly and looks real strong," said Pam Knox, assistant state climatologist. "I don't think it's going away any time soon."

The last time the lake was at 1,071 feet or higher was June 22. And levels dropped to their lowest point this year, 1,068.59 feet, on Sept. 24.

By Sept. 14, much of North Georgia was considered to be abnormally dry, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Conditions had improved by Oct. 5, with much of North Georgia, including most of Hall County, out of the drought.

On Wednesday, Lake Lanier stood at 1,069.01 feet above sea level, likely to rise a bit because of some heavy rainfall during the day.

The corps will return to a winter full pool of 1,070 feet on Dec. 1 and keep water at that level "as long as conditions allow," Coghlan said.

"To hold the lake above that level could have serious lakeside impacts," she said. "If wet weather were to occur, it would impact our flood fighting abilities in the basin."

Laidlaw, meanwhile, is crossing his fingers on two accounts - continued high lake levels and economic recovery.

"If we get into a situation where the water goes down again and we're still in this recessionary period, it could mean some real trouble," he said.

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