Lanier: How low will it go?

30 11 2008

By Debbie Gilbert |

Lake Lanier is approaching a historic moment, but it’s not a cause for celebration.On Dec. 26 last year, Lanier hit 1,050.79 feet above sea level, the lowest point since the reservoir was completed in the late 1950s. Normal full pool is 1,071 feet.

With Georgia mired in drought for a third year, Lanier has failed to rebound during 2008 and is now in exactly the same situation as a year ago.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projected that without significant rain, Lanier will drop below its historic lowest level sometime between Dec. 5 and Dec. 12.

But here’s the difference: After the lake hit 1,050.79 last year, it began to slowly rise again. This time, it’s likely that the water level will continue to drop.

How much lower will it fall? And when, if ever, will the lake get back up to normal?
Even the experts have no idea.

“It’s hard to make predictions,” said Lt. Col. Daren Payne, deputy commander of the corps’ Mobile district, which manages Lake Lanier.

“With this being a prolonged drought, you could be seeing a couple years before the lake gets up to full pool. On the other hand, if we get a deluge next spring like what they had in the Midwest this year, it’s possible it could recover sooner.”

The corps issues a forecast every Tuesday, calculating the expected levels of Lanier for the subsequent four weeks. But Payne said the computer models do not factor in rain, because that’s a variable that cannot be accurately predicted.

In general terms, though, the next three months are expected to bring less rain than usual.

“Our staff weather guy is not seeing a wetter than normal winter,” said Payne.

Even a normal winter would be welcome, according to state climatologist David Stooksbury. “We’ve been dry for so long that people have forgotten what normal (winter) rainfall is like,” he said. “This time of year we should be getting about an inch a week.”

That amount would be helpful, he said, but it’s not going to make up for a 20-foot deficit.

“Even with normal rainfall this winter and spring, I do not see Lanier back to full pool next summer,” he said. “Any rain we get is going to (bring) some improvement in flow. But even with normal rain, we’re just not going to get enough water into the basin to fill up the lake.”

Stooksbury said he is concerned about the long-term outlook, and he wonders whether what’s happening in Georgia is part of an atmospheric shift on a global scale.

Read on here.

Lee County declares war on illegal dumping

30 11 2008

By Jim Wallace | WALB

Lee County code enforcement officers say they have declared war on illegal dumping in one of South Georgia’s fastest growing counties.

They’re working with State Department of Natural Resources Rangers to track down people who dump and throw out trash so they can prosecute them.

Department of Natural Resources Conservation Ranger Randy James is on patrol this Holiday weekend, looking for illegal dumping. He finds a big pile under a bridge on the Leslie Highway.

Ranger Randy James said “They get down in here, dump it off, and take off.”

Leaving behind a real mess for taxpayers to clean up.

James said “Right here we’ve got a little bit of roofing material, a screen, looks like some fencing and a bed. Look out here you’ve got a piece of decking and deer carcuses.”

Not only creating an eyesore, but a real health danger to the area’s environment.

James said “After you get a good 3 or 4 inches of rain, the creek will actually rise and flood out the banks, and pick up all this trash out here and take it downstream.”

James checks another area where they have found lots of illegal dumping, a cul-de-sac off Forrester Parkway. Lee County officials say they are declaring war on dumping. County Code Enforcement is putting out surveillance cameras, to catch dumpers in the act.

 James said “They are out right now. The problem is getting worse. So he is getting more cameras and he will have them out. So anyone going under a bridge thinking no one’s watching, someone will be watching.”

Most of the people they are catching so far are home owners.

 James said “Everyone tells me they are trying to save themselves a little bit of money. And for roughly 2 and a half cents a pound they can take it down to the landfill and avoid a day in court.”

Lee County and state law enforcement promise they will prosecute everyone they catch dumping, as they go high tech, stepping up efforts to stop this environmental crime.

Rangers say Judges are tough on illegal dumpers.

They usually hand out fines and community service that often involves cleaning up trash across the county.

Retail veteran gave new life to Chattahoochee Nature Center

30 11 2008

Ann Bergstrom, an Atlanta native, practically grew up in the woods of the Southeast, she says. Her father was in the U.S. Forest Service and taught her to love the outdoors.

That passion for the natural world continued through her adult life, though she kept it separate from her career for decades. Monday through Friday, she worked in retail marketing, including 25 years at Rich’s and Federated department stores. She and her husband spent their weekends canoeing and camping.

Then, in December 1999, she took on what she considers the hardest challenge of her life. She became director of the Chattahoochee Nature Center, which was struggling and in danger of shutting down, she said.

She has been able to stabilize the financial health of the nonprofit and raise nearly $10 million for a new facility that is under construction. The 10,000-square-foot Discovery Center, scheduled to open in June, will focus on education about the Chattahoochee River. It will house interactive exhibits, a high-definition theater and a rooftop garden terrace for community activities.


Q: Why did you take this job when you knew the center was struggling?


A: It was a call to the heart. I gave it a lot of thought. I came down here and walked the trails. I went in and out of the place a number of times anonymously without anyone knowing who I was. I could see visibly that the center was needy in a lot of ways. I thought about it, prayed about it. … I am the only director who has stayed more than five years in the center’s 32 years of existence. It is a very difficult challenge and has been since the initial launching of the center.


Q: Why is it such a difficult challenge?


A: It is an environmental nonprofit. Put that at the top of the list. There are almost no environmental nonprofits in the state of Georgia. There is no critical mass for the work we do. There is no official structure in state or local government to work with and support nonprofits that work in the environmental field, or, for that matter, in the science field.

Education is sort of the overlooked part of the environmental continuum. I think the general public thinks environmental education is taught in schools and it is something we should all just sort of understand and know, that the real issues that deserve support in the environmental arena are the crises — saving a piece of land that is going to be lost to development or saving a habitat in which animals are in danger. Those are compelling causes that attract people. Education is not sexy.

A little bit of that is changing now, however, with the awareness that we are going to have to face the issue of global warming and climate change. … At the same time, the pressure of the community on the Chattahoochee Nature Center to deliver environmental education was enormous. The people kept coming, they kept coming, they kept coming. More than 100,000 people a year come to the center.

Read on here.