May 25, 2012
While addressing the Lake Lanier Association on Thursday night, Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle rallied for the protection of Lake Lanier and said higher lake levels have been, and can be, maintained.
“We realize the great recreational value it has for our state,” said Cagle. “It’s also a huge resource for the state of Georgia.”
Right now, the lake levels are around 1,065 feet above sea level. Full summer pool for the lake is 1,071 feet above sea level.
Cagle says the lake has been higher, using the 1996 Olympics as an example, and “where there is a will, there is a way” to keep those levels higher.
“I think it needs to be a fuller pool than (1,071) and the capacity is there to make that happen,” he said.
He urged the U.S. Corps of Engineers, which controls the water release at Buford Dam, to make the lake a “stronger priority.”
Lake Lanier, for more than two decades, has been at the center of a tristate debate for water use.
It is a part of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system and Alabama, Florida and Georgia continuously lock horns on how the water is to be used.
Georgia wants the system’s water for drinking water, economic growth and recreation. Alabama says the water is necessary for energy. Florida says the water is essential to support a seafood industry and wildlife in the Apalachicola River Basin.
Last June, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a 2009 ruling by U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson, who ruled it was illegal for the Corps of Engineers to use water from the lake to provide metro Atlanta with usable water.
“That was a huge win,” said Cagle. “As a result it created a whole new landscape as it relates to water quantity.”
The June 2011 ruling from the federal appeals court also gave the corps one year to make a final determination on how to allocate Lanier’s water.
“It sent a very, very strong message to the Corps of Engineers that we need an updated water management plan and I think that’s critical for not only Lake Lanier, but the entire state,” said Cagle.
Cagle said the ruling gave the state the ability to better negotiate with Florida and Alabama, who have said they plan to appeal.
But the lieutenant governor says Lanier is not as big a player in the river system as most think.
“If not one ounce of water came over the dam at Buford it would only impact the flow at the Georgia-Florida line less than one foot,” Cagle said. “Most people don’t capture that, but that’s the reality of what we’re talking about.”
The locals seem to agree that Lanier’s water is best served in Georgia.
“Those mussels and sturgeon (in Florida) lived 7 million years before Lake Lanier,” said Frank Norton of Norton Realty.
“If all this fails I want Gov. (Nathan) Deal and Lt. Gov. Cagle to mount the Georgia militia and stand on top of the Buford Dam and yell at Alabama and Florida: ‘Come and get it.’”
He said the low water levels directly affect the property value surrounding Lanier, valued at more than a half-trillion dollars.
“When the water gets pulled out of Lake Lanier, the sales stop,” said Norton.
But for some lake residents it’s simpler than that.
Paul LeMay bought property on Lanier about five years ago.
He hoped he could share the lake with his children and grandchildren, but says the constant low levels pose a safety threat, when he can even get his boat off the dirt where his dock is.
LeMay actually plans on selling his lakeside property.
“My wife and I decided this isn’t a place where we wanted to live because it’s moved from a God situation with the drought, which we can understand, to all of sudden all of these politics flushed out, which we never realized,” said LeMay.
“I no longer encourage people to look for property on the lake.”
Earlier this week, the corps unveiled a new plan that will adjust procedures at Jim Woodruff Dam on Lake Seminole in South Georgia.
The new procedures would release the minimum amount of water, 5,000 cubic feet per second, out of Woodruff Dam in times of drought until reservoirs upstream, including Lanier, were nearly at full pool.
Only then would the corps release more water — 5,000 to 10,000 cfs, up from 5,000 to 8,000 cfs — out of Woodruff Dam.
Adding more reservoirs is something Cagle sees as necessary to maintain a supply of water.
“We are going to need to build reservoirs for the state,” he said. “I think we can do it in a responsible way and in a way that protects the environment.”
That includes the Glades Reservoir in Hall County.
“I am for the Glades Reservoir, as long as it does not hurt Lake Lanier,” said Cagle. “We have to have the supply and I think the two can be balanced together.”
But as talks continue between the three states and water levels on Lanier continue to stay below full pool, the lieutenant governor says the lake needs to remain a priority — whether it’s for safety, home value or water supply.
“It doesn’t matter how you look at the lake, as long as your interest is to protect the lake, then that’s a good thing,” said Cagle.