Lanier: How low will it go?

30 11 2008

By Debbie Gilbert | gainesvilletimes.com

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.

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