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What a difference a year makes
Lake Lanier reaches full pool for first time since 2016
Lake Lanier
As of Tuesday morning, the lake reached about 1,070.5 feet above sea level, about half a foot above the lake’s winter full pool level. Inset: Last year at this time the lake was at 1,061 feet above sea level. - photo by FCN

For the first time since May 2016, Lake Lanier is at its full level. 

As of Tuesday morning, the lake reached about 1,070.5 feet above sea level, about half a foot above the lake’s winter full pool level. The lake was last at full pool in summer 2016, meaning the lake did not reach that level at all in 2017. 

“Our goal is to refill Lake Lanier every year there’s a drawdown,” said James Hathorn, chief of water management for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s Mobile District. “By reaching elevation 1,070, we’re now at the winter level, and at that level, we can meet all of our project purposes at the desired level.”

Hathorn said among those project purposes helped by having a full lake include water supply, water clarity, navigation on the lake, recreation and hydropower.

The level of Lake Lanier has fluctuated in recent years. Below is a look at the lake level toward the start and end of the past three years. 

Feb. 20, 2015: 1070.41

Nov. 1, 2015: 1067.54 feet

Feb. 20, 2016: 1070.54 feet

Nov. 1, 2016 1062.36

Feb. 20, 2017: 1061.03 feet

Nov. 1, 2017: 1065.59

Feb. 20, 2018: 1070.51 feet

Corps officials aren’t the only ones happy to see the lake level up. 

“I think the impact when the lake is fuller, it just brings a different energy to the lake,” said Kenny Haddock, general manager at Habersham Marina, located in Forsyth County. “It always has, especially between your customers, because it’s full. That just seems to bring a positive impact on it.”

The lake reached about the same level as Tuesday on the same date in 2016 and 2015, but what that means for the rest of the year will depend on rain and other factors over the summer. At the end of 2015, the level was more than 1,075 feet, while it was about 1,060 feet at the end of 2016.

“In the year 2016, we were above elevation 1,070 leading into the month of May, and then all of a sudden, conditions got dry. The reservoir fell maybe eight feet in the remaining seven-month period,” Hathorn said. “It’s good to be full in this winter period, [but] it is not guaranteed it will be full in the summer, as well. But we are happy. It’s better to be at elevation 1,070 than below 1,070.”

On Feb. 20, 2017, the lake level was 1,061 feet. That year, due to the lake level, the corps took steps to mitigate damage done by the drought.

 “We were only meeting the water quality [and] the water supply requirements downstream of the project,” Hathorn said. “We reduced the amount of hydropower that we were generating from the project itself.”

Hathorn said there was only so much people could do to help the level.

“The main contributor is Mother Nature providing rain at the right locations. In order to refill Lanier, you need rain above the project, above the dam itself,” he said.

He said rain has been especially heavy in the last 10-14 days.

Haddock said a higher lake level meant better business and happier customers. 

“Of course, operation for us is a lot better when the water is up because you don’t have all these steep ramps people are walking up and down, the safety hazards, that kind of thing,” he said. “When the lake is at [full] pool, you don’t have as many obstacles that they are running over, so they don’t tend to tear up the props and outdrives as much as you would in low lake levels.”