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Concerns rising over drought, impact on Lake Lanier
lakedrought
Falling water levels on Lake Lanier expose more shoreline as Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club paddlers enter the cove at the boathouse Tuesday morning following a practice session. Paddlers Owen Farley-Klacik, Alec Wilson, Andrew Surles and Owen Ozaki make their way to the dock. - photo by SCOTT ROGERS/Gainesville Times

It doesn’t seem so long ago when rain couldn’t stop falling. Now, we could go days between raindrops.

And the soil is beginning to show it, as the Hall County area is steeped in drought.

So far, drought conditions are considered moderate, but severe conditions are just to the south of Hall in metro Atlanta and in northwest Georgia, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

“I’m definitely concerned about the forecast for lake levels,” which show Lake Lanier hitting 1,066 feet above sea level by mid-July, said Joanna Cloud, Lake Lanier Association executive director.

At 1,066, “we start being concerned about public safety impacts,” said Nick Baggett, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ natural resource manager at Buford Dam. “We start looking at it pretty hard at that point.”

The lake’s summer full pool is 1,071 feet above sea level, which is several feet below the historical median elevation, according to the corps, which governs Lanier.

Lanier was at 1,068 feet Tuesday afternoon.

Some relief may be on the way, as the National Weather Service’s forecast calls for a slight chance of thunderstorms Friday through Monday. But those may be hit or miss rains, as the area settles into a sweltering summer weather pattern.

“We’ve got some warm temps coming back at us,” State Climatologist Bill Murphey said.

All in all, it’s a reversal of weather conditions from early winter, when wet weather was the norm. Lanier was at 1,075.48 feet on Dec. 31, prompting heavier releases at Buford Dam and causing some corps parks to close.

Then, a drier than normal spring in the Hall area brought levels down.

“It was the fifth-driest on record,” Murphey said, noting that 6.77 inches of water fell March through May.

A blast of hot temperatures in late spring didn’t help conditions.

“That really dried us out in the short term and made the soil moisture so low,” Murphey said.

Michael Wheeler, Hall County extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension office, said the drought has taken its toll particularly on pastures.

“The (hay) production isn’t there anymore,” he said.

The Drought Monitor is calling for above-normal precipitation later this summer, “so we are hopeful that will help ease the pressure on Lake Lanier,” Cloud said.

Also, with the hurricane season running until Nov. 30, moisture conditions can turn on a dime.

“I hate to have anything like a hurricane, but those things happen in nature and you can get a lot of rain dumped on you at one time,” Baggett said.