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Rainfall Not the Main Reason for Lower Lake Levels, Says Lake Lanier Association

Boat+docks+rest+on+the+shore+Wednesday%2C+Nov.+1%2C+2023%2C+across+from+Longwood+Park+in+Gainesville+due+to+low+water+levels+on+Lake+Lanier.
Scott Rogers
Boat docks rest on the shore Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023, across from Longwood Park in Gainesville due to low water levels on Lake Lanier.

Lake Lanier has been experiencing a significant decrease in water levels, now measuring 5 feet lower than they were last October. As Tim Rainey, Lanier operations project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, put it, “We need rainfall. We need Mother Nature to help us out.”

In response to the concerns raised by the lake community, Clyde Morris, the Vice President of the Lake Lanier Association, shed light on the reasons behind this rapid drop.

Morris said that the recent decrease in the lake’s water level can be attributed to several factors other than rainfall. “Primarily, the reduced rainfall has led to diminished inflow from the Chattahoochee and Chestatee Rivers, supplying merely 350 cfs (cubic feet per second) to Lake Lanier, which is slightly over half of the average over the last year.”

Contrastingly, he said, the releases from Buford Dam have been consistently running at 1,400 cfs.

“The Corps of Engineers operates the dams in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River System (ACF) to serve various purposes such as water supply, water quality, hydroelectric power generation, flood control, downstream navigation and fish and wildlife management,” Morris continued, ”including the protection of threatened or endangered species.”

Morris emphasized that the Corps’ rules are designed to ensure minimum flows into Florida’s Apalachicola River, safeguarding threatened species such as the Gulf sturgeon and several species of mussels. “The Corps utilizes a set of thresholds and corresponding releases for different seasons, with the aim of preventing potential harm to the Gulf sturgeon during its spawning and non-spawning seasons,” Morris said.

Moreover, Morris highlighted the critical role of Lake Lanier within the ACF system.

“As Lake Lanier constitutes a substantial portion of the ACF’s conservation storage, it is tasked with supplying additional water to support downstream ramping, thereby influencing the lake’s rapid water level decrease.” – Clyde Morris, Vice President of the Lake Lanier Association

Morris concluded by highlighting the long-standing contention over the ramp rates proposed by the Corps for the Water Control Manual update in 2017. “Despite our opposition to the artificial ramp rates, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service insisted on their implementation, resulting in Lake Lanier bearing a disproportionately large share of water supply in adherence to these regulations,” Morris stated.

Even while a dip of a few feet might not seem like much, Morris said that lake visitors are being affected. Swimming places have been left dry as dock owners are forced to move their docks further out to stay afloat.

“The net effect of all of this is that the lake becomes less and less usable,” he said.

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Chaz Mullis, Staff Editor
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