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Pre-drought releases resume on Lake Lanier
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Forsyth County News

After nearly two years of releases aimed at dealing with a wrenching drought, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has resumed normal water-control operations at Lake Lanier.

Lanier is above the top of its conservation level and within the storage dedicated to flood control, officials said.

And given the long-range forecast of a wetter-than-normal winter and spring, the corps plans to maintain the normal winter pool level of 1,070 feet above sea level as long as conditions allow.

“To hold the lake above that level could have serious lakeside impacts if wet weather continues and would impact our flood-fighting abilities in the basin,” said E. Patrick Robbins, corps spokesman.

“The corps must be positioned to respond to these conditions in a way that best serves the public and ensures project purposes are met.”

Since Nov. 26, 2007, Buford Dam had released water only to meet downstream flow requirements in the Chattahoochee River at Peachtree Creek.

And then, with September flooding in metro Atlanta, the corps reduced releases to minimize flood damages downstream.

Critics suggested that during those catastrophic floods, the corps should have stopped releases altogether.

Kit Dunlap, president of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said she wasn’t surprised by the announcement.

“I think they’ll keep it in that mode of doing normal releases,” she said.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle called the decision to return to normal water releases “objectionable and unacceptable.”

Cagle wrote the corps on Oct. 14, asking that the federal agency allow the lake’s level to rise another 2 feet. In a statement, Cagle said he would continue to press the corps for “a more reasonable response.”

“It has taken more than four long years for the lake to reach full pool and our businesses and citizens should be able to reap the benefits of our current abundant supply,” Cagle said.

“The difference between a pool of 1,070 and 1,071 is nearly 5 billion gallons of water. This is not simply an issue of a fuller lake being a prettier lake, this is an issue of economic growth for businesses and necessary drinking water for citizens.”

Using wetter weather as an opportunity for the corps to store more water on Lanier is not a new concept.

“It’s got to go through the corps and they have to sign off on it and do all that kind of stuff,” said Dunlap, also vice president of the 1071 Coalition lake advocacy group. “It would be great [if it happened].”

Lanier is now at 1,071.53 feet, having surpassed the full pool of 1,071 feet on Oct. 14 for the first time since September 2005.

“With precipitation expected later in the week, Buford [Dam] will increase releases to two hours starting [Tuesday] and continuing thereafter,” Robbins said. “This will allow us to follow the guide curve to reach 1,070 feet by Dec. 1.”

“We have gone from operating in a drought situation to our normal operations for flood control,” Robbins said. “All indications are that the Southeast will be in for a wetter-than-normal to normal winter weather pattern, and it is important that the lakes in the system are prepared to handle the excess water.”

Heavy rain is forecast for the area on Friday, with showers also predicted tonight and Saturday, according to the National Weather Service in Peachtree City.