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Lanier needs more water, group says

LAWRENCEVILLE - The Lake Lanier Association has proposed adding 2 more feet of water to the lake as a solution to ongoing water wars and questions of sustained growth.

The proposal would increase what is known as the lake's full pool level from 1,071 feet to 1,073 feet, Lake Lanier Association Vice President Val Perry said. That would add an additional 25 billion gallons of water to the lake, he said, and stave off the need for an additional reservoir on the Chattahoochee River.

"It's a win-win for everybody," Perry said.

The current lake level is at 1,065.24 feet, and Lake Lanier's operations project manager, Jonathan Davis, said the lake has been as high as 1,077 feet, where it stayed for a week in 1964. The lake can go as high as 1,085 feet to prevent flooding downstream, he said.

But there are questions about whether Buford Dam could hold the extra water and how higher water levels would affect beaches, marinas, boat ramps and erosion along the lake's shores.

In a letter to Col. Pete Taylor of the Army Corps of Engineers in Mobile, Ala., Perry suggested that the Corps analyze the proposal and its associated costs as part of a scoping plan that is being conducted for Lake Lanier's management.

Marilyn Phipps, a spokeswoman at the Corps' Mobile office, said the Jan. 9 letter had not yet been received.

But Davis said he had read a copy of the letter and discussed the proposal with Perry, and that he did not see anything that would make the plan impossible.

"Nothing immediately says that, no," he said. "It seems to look like it could have some merit."

Perry said adding capacity to Lake Lanier would give the state more flexibility in releasing water to Florida and Alabama, which are embroiled in lawsuits challenging the amount of water those states receive.

Florida has claimed that it needs more water to protect endangered species of sturgeon and mussels and Alabama wants more water to power a nuclear power plant and provide for growth. Both claim metro Atlanta is using too much water.

"The notion is that with everybody pulling on Lake Lanier, we need to have water in the future," Perry said. "There are not very many places to put a new reservoir on the Chattahoochee system."

Perry said the Corps last raised the full pool level from 1,070 feet to 1,071 about a decade ago, but Davis could not confirm that.

Perry said his next step will include contacting political leaders, including Gov. Sonny Perdue and U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, to discuss the idea. The association hopes the study could be completed in less than a year and a half.

"It's like a brand new Lake Seminole for virtually nothing," Perry said, referring to the reservoir on Georgia's border with Florida. "In any case, a new reservoir is hundreds of millions of dollars. This is peanuts compared to that."