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Lanier irrigation ban may not be a closed issue, lake officials say
Homeowners concerned reversal of pumping limits may be temporary
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An irrigation system is set up at a home on Lake Lanier to distribute water from the lake to a sprinkler system in the yard. The Army Corps of Engineers has rolled out new rules banning Lake Lanier residents from using the lake for irrigation properties. - photo by Erin O. Smith

An Army Corps of Engineers move this past week to reverse an irrigation ban stunned but pleased Lake Lanier homeowners.

It also left some thinking the reversal on banning residents from pumping water from Lanier to nurture lawns may only be temporary.

Corps districts “will suspend the implementation of the policy … until the review is complete and further guidance is issued,” spokeswoman Lisa Parker said.

The agency “absolutely (has) left the door open on this, but I think, if they revisit the issue, that we will have more of an opportunity for public comments and notice to homeowners affected,” said Joanna Cloud, executive director of the Lake Lanier Association.

Jason Ulseth, head of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, said his group believes “the most recent move by the corps to allow the public the opportunity to comment on a major decision directly impacting them is the right thing to do.

The issue has caused an uproar up and down Lanier shorelines. Many residents irrigate their lawns using a pump from their docks — and docks, which are sprinkled around the lake, are considered a precious commodity, enhancing property values.

Several residents declined to comment about the new rule, concerned about retribution from the corps concerning their docks.

Corps officials said the restriction would have brought shoreline management into compliance with laws dating to the 1940s that called for construction of dams and reservoirs but “never authorized irrigation, in any amount, as a project purpose.”

The corps decided Wednesday to reverse the decision, “following a meeting with concerned adjacent landowners,” said Parker of the Mobile (Ala.) District.

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, worked to get the policy reversed, talking by phone with Brig. Gen. C. David Turner, commander of the corps’ South Atlantic Division.

During the call, Turner announced the rules suspension.

Collins said that before the call, he had met with “numerous constituents, including the Lake Hartwell Homeowners Association, to discuss how to best fight against this burdensome and costly change.”

The reversal certainly pleased Tony Major, longtime owner of North Georgia Irrigation in Clermont.

“I couldn’t believe (the ban) at first,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how they could change something without sending people notices. It didn’t make sense.”

Ulseth said he believes if the corps ultimately decides to allow irrigation from Lake Lanier, the agency should consider implementing “best conservation practices.”

The corps should limit “irrigation use to early morning and evening hours in order to minimize evaporative loss and maximize returns to the lake,” he said.

As part of the ban, the corps was allowing water to be pumped from the lake to wash docks and boats moored at docks “so long as water fell back into the reservoir.”

Cloud said she also believed the new rule would have added to the already full plate of corps staff at Lake Lanier.

“We feel there are other, more pressing issues, for the corps to be focused on in terms of compliance with their federal mandates,” she said.

One issue of particular concern is sinking houseboats and other vessels around the lake.

Collins agreed with that sentiment.

“Instead of working with us for answers to problems (such as that), they seem to be go for easy fixes,” he said, referring to the irrigation ban.

Also, Cloud said she believe the corps should be concerned silt buildup in the lake.

“We have some major issues around the lake with development, runoff and siltation getting in the lake, especially in some of the smaller coves,” she said.

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