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Lake Lanier is full and clean heading into Memorial Day
Water level hits five-year high, bacteria counts low before holiday
Lake Lanier

At 1,071.97 feet above sea level, the lake is looking its lushest since 2013, when it was touching 1,073 feet toward the end of May. It’s a return to normalcy for Lake Lanier, which ended May at about its current level in not only 2013 but 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Last year was the oddball, when Lanier was a solid 7 feet below its current level after sizzling away in the preceding summer.

Rainfall since late April has bumped the lake more than 18 inches, part of a trend in what has been a wet 2018. Even in the past 10 days the lake has swelled the better part of a foot because of heavy rain rolling through the Southeast.

And now, with Lake Lanier topped off at the unofficial start to the lake’s peak season, hotels, marinas, restaurants and anyone else catering to the lake is bracing for a busy weekend — regardless of those little storm icons dotting your phone’s forecast.

“A little liquid sunshine doesn’t scare away our loyal visitors,” said Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau, noting that online searches for boat and jet ski rentals at Lake Lanier is hitting an all-time high before the Memorial Day weekend.

There’s more good news for both visitors and full-time residents around the lake: Despite the recent heavy rain, there’s no sign of unsafe levels of bacteria.

Chattahoochee Riverkeeper has started its summer monitoring of the lake’s water quality, and testing performed on Tuesday, May 22, yielded good news on Thursday: E. coli bacteria is below safety limits at all areas of the lake and in popular swimming areas.

While Riverkeeper staff usually test only for the ingredients of algae growth, which clogs the lake and can be hazardous for both wildlife and humans, the group decided to also test for E. coli because of the coming Memorial Day weekend, said Gainesville-based Headwaters Director Dale Caldwell.

“We do a 70-mile route and sample at 10 different locations,” Caldwell said on Thursday. “What we did for bacteria, when we’re running these E. coli tests, we decided we’d do one at the upper part of the lake, the middle part of the lake and the lower part of the lake.”

Riverkeeper tested at Lanier Bridge at the edge of Gainesville, Browns Bridge and at Buford Dam. Bacteria counts were “extremely low,” he said.

Because of runoff from streets, fields and other man-made surfaces, bacteria counts tend to spike after rain events as the dust, fertilizer and other bits drain into creeks and rivers, ending up in Lake Lanier.

“This week was no exception,” Caldwell said of the creeks around Lake Lanier.

He cautioned that creeks around the lake will have higher levels of bacteria than the lake itself, which is colder and has enough space to dilute anything running in from a creek. 

But from the water quality to the level, the lake itself is looking clear going into the long weekend.