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It’s ‘dirt season’ on Lake Lanier. How sediment causes problems and what you can do about it
Lake Lanier
Lake Lanier is muddy Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, at Longwood Park following recent heavy rains. Lake Lanier is entering "dirt season" from winter into spring when there is the highest level of erosion and sedimentation going into the lake. - photo by By Scott Rogers

Jennifer Flowers got about 10 reports Friday, Feb. 4, of dirty water in Lake Lanier — just another messy day in “dirt season.”

“Some of them are repeat issues,” said the Lake Lanier Association executive director Friday afternoon. “But we had a really big storm. It rained all day yesterday and it was really heavy last night, so a lot of the impacts we’re seeing this morning, and we’re still seeing them.”

“Dirt season” is the term Flowers gives winter through spring months, when “the velocity of the storms and not having leaves on the trees tends to put a lot more sediment in the creeks than any other time of the year.” 

When rain hits the ground, it has to go somewhere, and usually, that destination is a water source, such as a creek or stream. Water that falls in the western half of Hall County — basically west of Interstate 985 — travels eventually to Lake Lanier. Water in the eastern half flows into the Oconee basin, which leads to the Atlantic ocean.

“We’ve had an uptick in development and that definitely does contribute to the sediment and runoff,” Flowers said. “It’s really in that initial phase of clearing — when they’re trying to get the site level — that we see problems. And the sites that take longer to develop are ones that have a lot more problems.”

One North Hall resident, James Kendrick, has noticed lingering siltation problems in the cove near his residence off Corinth Drive near Wahoo Creek.

“Abundant rainfall definitely increases the amount, but it doesn’t have to rain much” for there to be a problem, he said.

Problems are widespread around the lake.

“Today, I’ve looked at problems in Forsyth County, Dawson County and have reports in Hall County,” Flowers said. “It’s not just one jurisdiction or one city. It’s a lakeside issue.”

And it’s not just appearance concerns.

“Sediment can bring a lot of phosphorus into the lake and cause other concerns, and it can affect fish habitat,” Flowers said. 

“The winter is a challenging time for erosion and sedimentation control best management practices,” said Linda MacGregor, director of the Gainesville Department of Water Resources.

“The amount of rain impacts the level of the challenge. In addition, grass does not germinate in the cooler temperatures, so contractors employ other methods until they can get grass growing.”

She said the city is “always working with construction site contractors on maintaining the best management practices.”

The Lake Lanier Association encourages people to let the group know of problems but first report them to the proper authorities.

“If you know where an issue is coming from, make sure to report it to the jurisdiction where the issue is located,” the group says on its Facebook page. “The vast majority of jurisdiction staff really care and are very responsive to issues.”

Hall County has a hotline for such problems.

Bill Nash, Hall County’s interim director of public works and utilities, said that once calls are received, officials go to the site and determine the source of the problem.

“If we suspect a certain site as the culprit, we’ll send an inspector to see what’s occurring,” he said. “There’s a little bit of detective work that has to go on.”

As needed, inspectors get with contractors to “make those quick repairs,” Nash said.

While many issues are related to development, there are other sources that may need attention, such as pastures, he said.

Overall, “we have a pretty responsive development community … but there are bad apples in any cart,” Nash said. “And as needed, we will definitely use all methods we can to address them.”

This article was originally posted by the Gainesville Times, a sister publication to Forsyth County News.