Lake Lanier is heading into Memorial Day weekend at its highest level in five years.
At 1,071.97 feet above sea level, the lake is looking its lushest since 2013, when it was touching 1,073 feet toward the end of May. It’s a return to normalcy for Lake Lanier, which ended May at about its current level in not only 2013 but 2014, 2015 and 2016.
Last year was the oddball, when Lanier was a solid 7 feet below its current level after sizzling away in the preceding summer.
Rainfall since late April has bumped the lake more than 18 inches, part of a trend in what has been a wet 2018. Even in the past 10 days the lake has swelled the better part of a foot because of heavy rain rolling through the Southeast.
And now, with Lake Lanier topped off at the unofficial start to the lake’s peak season, hotels, marinas, restaurants and anyone else catering to the lake is bracing for a busy weekend — regardless of those little storm icons dotting your phone’s forecast.
“A little liquid sunshine doesn’t scare away our loyal visitors,” said Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau, noting that online searches for boat and jet ski rentals at Lake Lanier is hitting an all-time high before the Memorial Day weekend.
There’s more good news for both visitors and full-time residents around the lake: Despite the recent heavy rain, there’s no sign of unsafe levels of bacteria.
Chattahoochee Riverkeeper has started its summer monitoring of the lake’s water quality, and testing performed on Tuesday, May 22, yielded good news on Thursday: E. coli bacteria is below safety limits at all areas of the lake and in popular swimming areas.
While Riverkeeper staff usually test only for the ingredients of algae growth, which clogs the lake and can be hazardous for both wildlife and humans, the group decided to also test for E. coli because of the coming Memorial Day weekend, said Gainesville-based Headwaters Director Dale Caldwell.
“We do a 70-mile route and sample at 10 different locations,” Caldwell said on Thursday. “What we did for bacteria, when we’re running these E. coli tests, we decided we’d do one at the upper part of the lake, the middle part of the lake and the lower part of the lake.”
Riverkeeper tested at Lanier Bridge at the edge of Gainesville, Browns Bridge and at Buford Dam. Bacteria counts were “extremely low,” he said.
Because of runoff from streets, fields and other man-made surfaces, bacteria counts tend to spike after rain events as the dust, fertilizer and other bits drain into creeks and rivers, ending up in Lake Lanier.
“This week was no exception,” Caldwell said of the creeks around Lake Lanier.
He cautioned that creeks around the lake will have higher levels of bacteria than the lake itself, which is colder and has enough space to dilute anything running in from a creek.
But from the water quality to the level, the lake itself is looking clear going into the long weekend.
Water safety on Memorial holiday stressed by county officials
By Alexander Popp, Forsyth County News
With the Memorial Day weekend rapidly approaching, Forsyth, Dawson and Hall County authorities are preparing for an enormous influx of boaters and holiday revelers out on Lake Lanier.
According to Cpl. Eddie Tompkins, spokesman for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, even with the rain forecast for this weekend, the lake, Chattahoochee River and parks around both will still be busy.
Tompkins said that people should expect to see a large law enforcement presence on the lake all weekend.
“With Memorial Day coming up, we just want to stress our safety and make sure everybody makes it off the lake safe and enjoys a great holiday weekend,” Tompkins said. “At any given time you may have between six to 10 patrol boats on the water, depending upon how pretty it is and how busy it is.”
This past weekend, the Swift Water Rescue Team of Forsyth County Fire Department was called to rescue two women who were stranded on the bank of Chattahoochee River following a release of water from Buford Dam at 5 p.m.
According to Division Chief Jason Shivers of the Forsyth County Fire Department, the incident left both women unharmed but could have potentially been fatal in different circumstances.
“All things considered, this was a positive outcome to the situation,” Shivers said.
He explained that the women realized they were at risk while floating down the Chattahoochee below Buford Dam, made their way to the riverbank to escape the rising water levels and became stranded there.
Shivers said that taking simple precautions when swimming, boating or fishing in the Chattahoochee River can reduce your risk.
“Whenever possible people should check power production schedules through the Buford Dam before entering the river,” Shivers said. “And they absolutely must heed the warning signal and get off the water prior to the release.”
He said that even knowing the power production schedule at Buford Dam, anyone in the river should still be wary and ready to get out of the water if need be.
Shivers said that ignoring the warning signal from Buford Dam could potentially be deadly, because the river will potentially rise dozens of feet in minutes.
“The water is extremely cold, even if you are an experienced swimmer, boater or fisherman, you can be caught off guard by the temperature of the water,” Shivers said. “And never ever go in the water alone.”
Shivers said that anyone that is exploring the Chattahoochee River below the dam is required by Georgia Law to wear a life vest at all times.
Anyone interested in checking Buford Dam’s power production schedule before heading out on the river can do so by calling (770) 945-1466 or by visiting www.nps.gov for more info.