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Lower lake levels will help in annual shore cleanup
Styrofoam is used for boat docks
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Here's one upside to Lake Lanier's falling water level: It's easier to clean the shoreline.

"More stuff is exposed, as there is certainly more shoreline to look at," said Joanna Cloud, executive director of the Gainesville-based Lake Lanier Association.

In preparing for its 23rd annual Shore Sweep on Saturday, the lake advocacy group has spotted a sunken pontoon boat and an abandoned personal watercraft, plus large amounts of Styrofoam and other discarded items junking up the lake's coves.

"It presents a little bit of a challenge because there are some things that are beached," Cloud said. "If a piece of Styrofoam is really embedded, it's really harder to get out than something that has washed (ashore)."

The group also has identified an abandoned dock that will be tricky to remove.

"It's high and dry right now. Yanking that thing out is a little bit more of a challenge," Cloud said.

The lake stands at just over 1,063 feet above sea level, or nearly 8 feet below the full pool of 1,071 feet.

And that has exposed 3,600 acres of shoreline, said Nick Baggett, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' natural resource manager at Lanier.

The lake hasn't been this low since April 2009 — during the 2007-09 drought that ravaged Georgia.

Lanier drained to a historic low of 1,050.79 feet on Dec. 26, 2007.

"It's really great to take advantage of the fact that the water level is lower so that we can get to the trash," said Bonny Putney, headwaters outreach coordinator for the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper.

In the previous drought, "we worked very hard to clean up the lake," she said. "We actually got over a hundred tons of trash during that period."

This year's Shore Sweep is set for 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., with collection spots set up at 13 locations, including Clarks Bridge Park and Gainesville, Hideaway Bay, Holiday, Aqualand, Lazy Days and Sunrise Cove marinas in Hall County.

Volunteers can enter Lake Lanier Islands resort at no charge to collect trash.

Other locations around the lake include War Hill Park in Dawson County; Bald Ridge, Habersham and Port Royale marinas in Forsyth County; and Lanier Harbor Marina in Gwinnett County.

For the first time, "we have divided up the lake into zones and we've assigned (each one) to volunteer captains and we are asking for scout teams to go out in advance, basically drive along the shoreline and mark areas where there is debris," Cloud said.

"There are 50 pieces of Styrofoam on the shoreline right now at Toto Creek (Park in Dawson County)," she said. "It's amazing there's much out there."

Styrofoam is popularly used for boat docks.

Also, the association has opened collection sites around the lake for people who want to help with the cleanup but can't participate on Saturday.

Another departure from previous events is that the Lake Lanier Association is not holding a post-cleanup party this year for all the volunteers.

"The lake is so big, it's just hard to find a single location that serves everybody," Cloud said.

Instead, volunteer recognitions will take place at each collection area.

Several area groups, such as Keep Hall Beautiful, as well as businesses, are joining residents in the cleanup, Cloud said.

"It's really nice to have merchants in our community who are supportive of something like this," she added.

Year-round, the corps' cleanup efforts on the lake mainly involve just keeping an eye out for "navigational hazards," Baggett said.

"A lot of times, if we know who owns a particular boat dock or boat, and it sinks, we hold them responsible and try our best to get them to remove it," he said.

Otherwise, "the problem we've got, as with every agency and business in the United States today, is our budget," he added. "We have just so many people and so many programs we're trying to manage."

 

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