Jim O’Dell stood in his john boat, cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted.
He was shouting to some visitors near the beach at the Lake Lanier Olympic Park on Saturday, June 2, a family there to enjoy some of the sun that Gainesville hasn’t seen much of in the past couple of weeks.
But with the rain comes runoff. And with runoff comes pollution.
“These waters failed bacteria testing just two days ago,” said O’Dell, the high performance and dragon boat coach at the Lake Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club. “I coach kids and I wouldn’t let them out on this water.”
Dale Caldwell, headwaters director at Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, said the Environmental Protection Agency standard for safe recreation is 235 colonies of E. coli per 100 milliliter sample. When they tested water at the Olympic Park beach, that number was at 2,419, which may seem high, but he said it’s nothing to worry too much about because “we see these numbers every time it rains.”
“It’s above the standard, but these numbers will go down within days more than likely,” Caldwell said. “We would tell people not to swim in there now, but by next Saturday, I mean, things would be fine.”
After testing water in the lake for years and studying the numbers every week, he said “what it boils down to is, stay out of the water after rain events.”
Eric Lomax lives in East Hall and was visiting the Olympic Park with his wife, Misty, and her parents who were visiting from Athens. They don’t go on the lake or get in the water much, but said they still enjoy being around it. Eric Lomax moved to Gainesville in 1998 and was surprised to see the water rising over the shoreline. Recent heavy rains have risen Lanier’s waters 3 feet past full pool of 1,071 feet above sea level.
“I’ve never seen it where you can’t see the banks,” Eric Lomax said. “I’ve never seen it in the trees.”
O’Dell was worried about the water level, too. Sandbags were protecting the Olympic Park boathouse and some of its air conditioning units. He was at the boathouse early Saturday to help get things in order, including securing docks to make sure they wouldn’t get washed away or damaged. The dragon boats were filled with water, so he’s been making sure they get pumped out twice a day.
“I honestly didn’t expect it to get this high,” O’Dell said.
The rain affects just about everything that happens on the lake. Since the facility was built to accommodate full pool level, much more than that “cripples operations,” O’Dell said. Camps likely get canceled, rentals aren’t made, rowers can’t practice and larger events on the lake can’t be held.
One of his major concerns for the lake was the debris that could destroy boats and hurt people.
“You can damage rudders, you can damage engines, you‘ve got boat hulls,” O’Dell said. “Obviously it washes up on everything.”
Farther south, there were plenty of people at the Gainesville Marina on their boats. Linda Drees was out with her husband, Dennis, her brother, Bob Tucker, and her dog, Max. She wasn’t too worried about debris or bacteria. She said she’s a “lake girl,” so “if it’s going to be this hot, I’m going in.”
They like to get out on the water every weekend and visit friends at their docks. The weather wasn’t going to change those plans.
“We’re just happy it’s at full pool,” Linda Drees said. “I mean, I’m sure it does have to come down a little bit, but it doesn’t affect us. We’re happy just to be out.”