With more than 7.5 million visitors per year, Lake Lanier is one of the most popular summer spots for swimming, boating, fishing and relaxing.
As temperatures continue to rise —recently reaching the upper-70s and low 80s — an increasing number of Forsyth County residents are making their way to the lake’s nearly 700-miles of shoreline.
But officials are urging care to potential lake-goers, due to Lanier’s low water levels.
“When the lake drops, you have a different environment for which to recreate,” Nick Baggett, natural resource manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said in March. “We have designated swim areas and for a lot of those, the swim line is [currently] on the ground, whereas it’s usually in 5-6 feet of water.
“Once you get past the swim line, you have potential dangerous water depths where the lake can drop off. Unfortunately, people try to walk along natural bridges that are not [otherwise exposed]. A couple years ago, we had a couple of twins get pushed out into 40 feet of water. They were walking and holding hands and they all just fell off the edge.”
Though torrential storms have added almost a foot and a half of water to Lanier in the last month, the lake is at its lowest point in at least five years, and north Georgia continues in its months-long drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Long-range data from the National Weather Service released March 16 predicts the drought will persist in north Georgia through the end of June.
Forsyth is considered to be in severe drought, but neighboring counties, such as Dawson and Lumpkin and a tiny corner of north Hall, are worse off — their classification is extreme drought, which is one step below the most intense category, exceptional drought.
Lanier reflects this classification, measuring 1,062.4 feet on Monday, or 8.6 feet below full summer pool of 1,071 feet.
While that number is still a long way from Lanier’s record low of 1,050.79 feet in December 2007, the average lake level should currently be 1,066.1 feet, according to Army Corps data.
Baggett said when the lake is below 1,066 feet, recreating becomes impacted, though it is usually not until the lake reaches 1,063 feet or lower that parts become unusable.
At 1,063 feet, most designated beach areas are unusable and navigational hazards become more numerous, the Corps says, with some boat ramps also becoming unusable.
Even so, residents are bound to use the lake, Forsyth County officials said, reminding residents to be careful when on or near Lanier.
“Always remain cautious of lake rules and procedures and always wear a life preserver,” Forsyth County Fire Division Chief Jason Shivers said, “and don’t drink and boat or swim.”