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Berkeley Lake being drained for dam rehab project

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Councilman Bob Smith looks out at what remains of Berkeley Lake on April 5, 2012. Smith who lives along the lake stands where several feet of water use to be. The city of Berkeley Lake is restoring the dam after it was damaged during the 2009 flooding.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Councilman Bob Smith looks out at what remains of Berkeley Lake on April 5, 2012. Smith who lives along the lake stands where several feet of water use to be. The city of Berkeley Lake is restoring the dam after it was damaged during the 2009 flooding.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Boat houses stand helplessly above dry land along the shore of Berkeley Lake on April 5, 2012. The man-made lake built in 1949 is being restored after its dam was damaged during the 2009 flooding.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Civil engineers Clay Reichert and Richard Edinger walk on dry land which was once covered with several feet of water from Berkeley Lake. The city of Berkeley Lake is in the long process of restoring the dam after it was damaged by the 2009 flooding. The man-made lake built in 1949 was 80 feet deep in some places is now being drained to about 4 feet deep.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan The city of Berkeley Lake Mayor Lois Salter points out the construction along the shore of Berkeley Lake on April 13, 2012. Currently two pumps remove hundreds of gallons of water each day into the Chattahoochee River.

BERKELEY LAKE -- Things just aren't the same in Berkeley Lake.

For more than two years now, homeowners in the tight-knit city have dealt with low levels in the lake that is the center of the town's history and heart.

But with work finally beginning on the lake's dam, after the 2009 flood damaged it, the water will soon all but disappear.

This summer could be especially hard, said Mayor Lois Salter.

"It's going to be a mudhole, instead of a beautiful lake," she said. "Nobody's happy about it."

But after months of trying to get the Federal Emergency Management Agency to acknowledge its share of the cost -- 75 percent of the nearly $4 million price tag -- going ahead with the impending repairs may mean that the lake will return to its glory by next summer.

Rich Edinger, the city's engineer, said work has gone smoothly so far to get the lake ready for its revitalization.

Immediately after the flood -- which damaged homes, buildings and infrastructure throughout metro Atlanta -- the city had to drain the top 10 to 12 feet of water immediately. Since about half of the lake's 2,000 acre-feet of water is in those first 10 feet, the impact was dramatic right from the beginning.

Now, a contractor is siphoning off hundreds of gallons each day to drain all but four to six feet of the 80-foot-deep lake.

The fish, which have been a part of the city's history since it was built in 1949 with the City Council meeting for decades in a bait shack, will be shocked and removed.

"I still see some water, but it's about gone," Councilman Bob Smith said. "I could fish now, but you'd be stuck in the mud, and you'd have to call for help, and you're wife wouldn't let you in the house."

But Smith said the eventual restocking of the lake will be great. Funded by the Berkeley Lake homeowners association, the plan is to create a balance of fish life.

Officials have also taken the opportunity of the dam restoration to make some upgrades to North Berkeley Lake Road and some water pipes beneath it.

The work, she hopes, should go quickly, allowing the lake to take advantage of winter and spring storms to bring back the volume.

"If we get a good couple of storms that come through, it could come up rapidly," Salter said, adding that crews must control the lake's filling.