Corps of Engineers urge safety on the lake
Swimmers, boaters should take extra precautions during drought, holiday

LAWRENCEVILLE - Attention swimmers and boaters, Lake Lanier is low. Take extra, special precautions.

That's the message the lake's operator - U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - is spreading with the arrival of the Fourth of July holiday weekend and in the midst of the state's ongoing drought. The message begins with a fashion statement.

"Lakeside swimmers and boaters are encouraged to wear their personal flotation device," the Corps' Chief Public Affairs Officer E. Patrick Robbins said. "Many of the designated swim areas are high and dry."

Michael Lapina, the chief park ranger at Lake Lanier, explained further.

"It's (Lake Lanier) at a record low for this time of year," Lapina said. "Not all the water hazards are marked, especially in the smaller coves."

As of Thursday, Lake Lanier's water level was just shy of 15 feet below full.

Lapina said many of the designated swim areas are completely dry and as a result, swimmers are tempted to go farther out into cooler water. He said the rangers can't restrict swimmers from doing so, but they highly advise against it. He said in these undesignated areas swimmers run the risk of getting into trouble, whether through unseen drop offs, rocks, stumps, limbs or other hidden hazards. He also warned swimmers about diving in undesignated areas with the lake being so low.

"That's how people break their necks," he said, referring to the potential underwater hazards.

Lapina also warned boaters to be careful for the same reasons. He added that less boat ramps and lanes will be open because of the low water level. He said less boat ramps usually brings about increased parking problems and causes traffic backups. He recommended visitors car pool if possible.

"There's just not enough parking for everyone all the time," he said.

So far in 2008, seven people have died in Georgia boating incidents while 45 have been injured. Another 34 people have drowned in the state's waters.

Lapina said visitation this year at Lake Lanier is so far less than what it was at this time in 2007.

"It's partly due to the fuel costs, it's partly due to the lake levels," he said. "There's a combo there."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.