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Lanier begins summer full pool at highest point since 2003
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Cecil Quinley, Buford Dam power plant manager, left, and Chris Smith of the U.S. Geological Survey stand at the top of Buford Dam. Behind the men a digital readout visible from the nearby road displays the current lake level. - photo by NAT GURLEY

For the longest time, it seemed like Lake Lanier couldn’t reach winter or summer full pool.'

Thanks in part to steady, heavy rains, the North Georgia reservoir blew past both marks in mid-April and hasn’t looked back.

With the summer level of 1,071 feet above sea level taking effect today, Lanier is at 1,072.29 feet, the highest it has been since Feb. 8, 2010, when the lake was at 1,072.34.

The last time Lanier was higher on May 1 was in 2003.

Days of drought seem long ago.

And with summer tourism season about to get underway, “you can’t get better than that,” said Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“Also, a fuller lake means a safer lake, making the lake a better, more enjoyable experience.”

It wasn’t too far in the past, however, that lake watchers were fretting about ever-dropping levels, some resembling the devastating 2007-09 drought, which saw the lake drain to 1,050.79 feet.

The lake had dropped to 1,056.33 feet above sea level on Dec. 18, nearly 14 feet below the winter full pool of 1,070 feet. Since that date, however, the lake began a steady upward climb.

And much of that can be attributed to higher amounts of rainfall.

According to National Weather Service data, Gainesville had received 24.83 inches of rain this year as of Tuesday, and the normal year-to-date rainfall amount through Tuesday was 19.19 inches, a surplus of 5.64 inches.

More rain could be headed Hall County’s way. The National Weather Service in Peachtree City predicts a chance of showers or thundershowers through Monday night.

Because of increased rainfall and a full lake, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will, starting today, increase the minimum flow at Peachtree Creek near Vinings in Cobb County to 750 cubic feet per second from 650 cfs, which had been the flow since late December.

“The good news is that the extended drought forecast for the Southeast region is much better this year than what we saw this time last year,” said Joanna Cloud, executive director of the Gainesville-based Lake Lanier Association.

“So, hopefully we will see higher lake levels as we move into summer and fall,” she said. Still, “this puts the pressure back on all of us to once again step up our conservation efforts.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages Lake Lanier, projects that the water level will drop to 1,070.8 feet by the last week of May.

Water releases at Buford Dam are controlled by workers at the corps-operated Carters Lake Dam near Chatsworth in Murray County.

A gauge at the intake structure at the dam can be viewed by workers at Buford Dam, but a nearby camera allows Carters Lake “to view it and double-check it with what they have inside their control room,” said Chris Smith, a hydrologic technician with the U.S. Geological Survey.

The USGS is contracted by the corps to check Lake Lanier’s levels. The agency has a primary gauge inside a building at the intake structure that it uses to transmit water levels, which can be viewed on an electronic message board by passing Buford Dam Road motorists.

The corps checks the equipment weekly and the USGS every 6-8 weeks or so.

“With those many checks going on, we don’t really have to worry about (accuracy),” Smith said.

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