Since a devastating 2007-09 drought that produced record low levels, Lake Lanier has rebounded at times but never kept consistently high levels, a study of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers data shows.
Entering the weekend, Lanier stood at 1,061.54 feet below sea level, with full pool at 1,071 feet.
The last time Lanier was lower than it is now was Jan. 21, as the lake, at that time, was starting to rise after three months of levels below or hovering around 1,060 feet.
And for this time of the year, Lanier hasn’t been this low since 2008, when the lake stood at 1,055 feet and the area was in the deepest throes of drought.
The lake hit its historic low of 1,050.79 feet on Dec. 26, 2007.
Full pool was last reached on May 1, 2011.
“It is expected that the water level at Lake Lanier will continue to decline as drought conditions persist throughout the Southeast,” officials stated in a news release last week.
The corps’ Mobile District website bears that out, forecasting that the lake will drop to 1,060.8 feet by Oct. 12.
The weather has been mostly dry lately, including dodging the remnants of Tropical Storm Isaac and rain that was supposed to usher in a recent cold front.
Further, according to the corps, much of the summer’s rain — occasionally big doses of it — has fallen in the wrong places.
“You need it to rain north of the lake and on the northern third of the lake to really see any difference,” spokesman Patrick Robbins said in an August interview.
The U.S. Drought Monitor, which tracks conditions throughout the country, shows that the Forsyth County area is experiencing moderate to severe drought.
A study of the agency’s archives shows that it has been at least “abnormally dry,” the lowest level of drought severity, since May 17, 2011.
The last time the area showed no signs of drought was March 15 to May 10, 2011.
Recovery just doesn’t seem to hang around for long, as shown by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ attempts to issue its last batch of Lanier dock permits.
It’s been an on-again, off-again effort since the two-year drought, highlighted last week when the corps resumed normal shoreline management duties but continued to put off issuing dock permits or upgrades because of low levels.
Because the lake is below 1,063 feet above sea level, Lanier is operating under the corps’ Low Water Action Plan.
Dock permits won’t be considered until the lake level shows it can stay consistently above 1,064 feet.
In a recent interview, Kit Dunlap, president and CEO of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said she tries to be optimistic, but at the same time, she’s bracing for “the lake going even lower.”
“There are no magic answers, and the corps and everybody understands this. And as it gets to the different [conservation] stages, the releases may be less,” she added.
“It is getting to be a very serious situation, and it will bring the attention back to everybody,” said Dunlap, also a member of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District’s Governing Board.
Joanna Cloud, executive director of the Gainesville-based Lake Lanier Association, said she is happy the lake has stayed above 1,060 feet through the peak recreation season, “since the safety concerns of submerged objects are more significant when we drop below 1,060.
“If we are going to dip below that level, I’d much rather it happen in the off-peak season,” she added.
“Going forward, I’m anxious to see water plan developments from the [corps] in terms of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling affirming the use of Lanier for drinking water rights.”
Cloud said she also is looking forward to results of the ACF Stakeholders Sustainable Water Management Plan, a study under way involving a Georgia Tech professor and “incorporating water usage requests from all the stakeholders” in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin.
The ACF Stakeholders is a diverse group of people with an interest in the basin, which stretches from North Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico and includes Lake Lanier.
“Having a professional study done and incorporating feedback from all the stakeholders is a critical step toward balancing the resources within the basin,” she said.
There are modest signs that relief — in the form of more rain — may be on the way.
In the meantime, Georgia is considered in “neutral condition” in that it has moved out of La Niña, which typically brings about drought conditions in the Southeast, said State Climatologist Bill Murphey.
“The forecast calls for transitioning possibly into a weak El Niño, as the fall moves in,” he added.
In the South, El Niño can result in stronger winter storms with increased precipitation.