Brown's Bridge Over Lake Sidney Lanier
Inspection Party of Lake Sidney Lanier
Excavation Work On Lake Sidney Lanier
Building Lake Sidney Lanier
Brown's Bridge Construction Over Lake Sidney Lanier
Congress authorized Buford Dam for construction in 1946 as part of the overall development of the nation’s waterways after the Second World War. The river and harbor legislation that came out of Congress during this time period was targeted at developing the nation’s rivers systems for national defense, flood control, power production, navigation and water supplies. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was involved in hundreds of projects all over the United States, as the scope of this massive undertaking was unprecedented.
Funding for construction first appeared on the horizon for the project in late 1949 as part of a multi-million dollar public works appropriation for the State of Georgia which saw $750,000.00 go to Buford Dam. This money was used to complete the initial planning and design phases of the project such as the powerhouse design and for the start of construction. The ground breaking was held on the Gwinnett County side of the future dam site on March 1, 1950.
Hundreds of people from all over North Georgia braved the cold damp weather conditions to make the trek along the water soaked muddy roads to get to the groundbreaking ceremony. The work on the three saddle dikes, main earth dam, powerhouse, as well as bridge & highway relocation and construction would take over seven years. Although the work would be completed by private companies they would have to follow government specifications agreed to at the time the contracts were awarded.
During this time period the government would also have to acquire the rights to over 56,000 acres of land and see to the relocation of over 700 families. This was necessary in order to prepare the land for a 38,000-acre reservoir with over 692 miles of shoreline. The government followed strict guidelines spelled out in the “River and Harbor Act” legislation in acquiring private property for public use. Careful attention was paid in removing homes, barns, wells, fencing, and other physical property to prevent navigation hazards on the lake in the future. This one aspect of the project’s construction had a price tag of over 19 million dollars. Most property was purchased for between $25 and $75 per acre. When complete, the total cost of the project’s construction, including the acquisition of land related items, was nearly 45 million dollars.
On February 1, 1956 the gates of the intake structure were closed on the lakeside of the dam starting the slow process of creating the reservoir that was eventually named Lake Sidney Lanier after the Georgia born poet and musician who died in the 1880’s. It took over three years for the lake to record its normal elevation of 1070 feet above sea level for the first time on May 25, 1959. The dedication was held on top of the intake structure parking lot on October 9, 1957.
ReservoirThe lake's original lake and authorized purposes were to provide hydroelectricity, navigation, flood control and water supply for Atlanta.
The $1 billion project was approved, ground breaking was in 1950 and more than $2 million had been spent by the Corps on preliminary construction when the House Committee on Appropriations refused to provide more funds in June 1951. During that summer Atlanta mayor William Hartsfield traveled to Washington numerous times pressing Senators Richard Russell, Jr. and Walter F. George to restore funding to ensure Atlanta's water supply during droughts. Hartsfield was back in Washington in 1955 for $11 million more for the dam, which had a target date of 1956, again stressing the importance of an adequate water supply for the city. Again, funds were forthcoming and the dam opened on
Lake Lanier began filling in 1956, and in 1957, 20 miles downstream, Morgan Falls Dam was raised to regulate the flow from Buford Dam to give Atlanta water during the hours it was needed most. The foresight of the entire project was confirmed in early fall of 1958 during two solid months of drought which would have left the Chattahoochee and its tributaries nearly dry, if not for the Buford Dam.
Since the 1990's, the Corps of Engineers, Florida, Georgia, and Alabama have all been fighting for use of the water held in Lake Lanier. Federal law mandates that when a river flows between two or more states, each state has a right to an equal share of the water. Additionally, other laws such as the Endangered Species Act require that water be available for threatened or endangered species that live in or around Chattahoochee River and Apalachicola Bay.
Drought 2007-2009USACE revealed that the new lake gauge at the dam, replaced in December 2005, was not properly calibrated, yielding a lake level reading nearly two feet (over half a meter) higher than the actual level. Because of this, nearly twenty-two billion U.S gallons (over eighty-two billion liters) of excess water was released over and above the already planned excess releases to support both the successful spawning of gulf sturgeon in the Apalachicola River and to protect several species of mussels in Apalachicola Bay from excessive saltwater intrusion.
Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue said that the Corps had created a "manmade drought", because most of the state is already experiencing dry conditions. This came at a time when outdoor water-use restrictions were already being put in place by local governments, because of enormous water use on the many lawns which have replaced the forests in newer suburban areas. Mainly because of this incident at the lake, the state then declared a drought and enacted a ban on outdoor water use from 10AM to 4PM, in addition to the permanent weekly odd/even address system. Other local counties have imposed further restrictions or even total bans, based on each water system's conditions. Outdoor watering has since been banned completely as the state has fallen under the worst drought in its recorded history.
On October 16, 2007, Governor Perdue gave the USACE until the evening of October 17 to come up with a plan for the continued release of water for Florida wildlife. Senator Johnny Isakson stood before the Georgia General Assembly saying, "The health, safety and welfare of people are threatened. They are threatened by an act this Congress passed that had no intention to threaten them." He eventually withdrew his threat to sue the Corps of Engineers, but the Lake Lanier Association indicated that it will attempt a private legal action. Governor Perdue's attempts to reach an agreement with Florida over water releases fell through, leaving a final decision on releases from the lake in the hands of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Eventually, on February 18, 2008, the water level of Lake Lanier rose back, above the record-low levels set in November, rising to 1,052.80 ft (320.89 m), even higher than the December 1981 level of 1,052.7 ft (320.9 m), effectively ending the record-low phase of the drought crisis.
A similar drought situation also occurred in late 2008. At the end of the year, the water level stabilized around a final low of 1,051.00 ft (320.34 m), recorded December 8, 2008 at Buford Dam. That level was only slightly above the 2007 low of 1,050.79 ft (320.28 m) from December 26, 2007.
However, after rainfall during the winter of 2008-2009, on March 30, 2009, the climatologist of the state of Georgia, David Stooksbury, declared the drought over, noting, "soil moisture is near normal, stream flows are near normal. Small and medium-sized reservoirs are full." Stooksbury continued by noting, "There is still the 500-pound gorilla sitting in the room and that’s Lanier." In May 2009, the water level of Lake Lanier rose to exceed 1066 ft, reaching a high of 1,066.71 ft (325.13 m) in mid-June 2009. Yet it did not reach the full summer pool of 1071 ft during mid-2009, remaining over 4 ft (1.2 m) lower. Regardless, the concerns about the health of the lake and Atlanta's water supply were in full retreat. Due to weeks of heavy rains and flooding in North Georgia, Lake Lanier reached full pool in mid-October 2009. The record high is 1,077.2 feet (328.3 m) set in April 1964.
The record-low lake levels had revealed parts of the lake bottom not seen since the 1950's, when approximately 700 families were moved from the area to create the lake. An abandoned stretch of Georgia Highway 53 ran along one edge of new shoreline, and concrete foundations from homes and part of what was once the Gainesville's Looper Speedway were uncovered. More recent additions to the lake - including discarded trash, boat batteries and even sunken boats - were discovered, and local efforts to clean up the lake bottom were organized. Several automobiles, some stolen, and discarded firearms were also recovered by law enforcement officials.
GeographyThe lake is in Hall, Forsyth, Dawson, Gwinnett, and Lumpkin counties, split about 60%, 30%, 5%, 4%, and 1% respectively, filling the valley into numerous small arms and fingers. The former thalweg of the Chestatee and the Chattahoochee south of it form the county line between Hall and a tiny corner of Gwinnett to the east, and Dawson and Forsyth to the west.
One of the main purposes of the lake is flood control downstream of the lake, mainly protecting metro Atlanta. There have only been two major flooding events on the downstream section since the construction of Buford Dam. The most recent flooding event was in 2009.
Minnesota (chosen as an arbiter from a neutral location) ruled that Congress never authorized Lake Lanier to be used as a source of the water supply for metro Atlanta. The state was given three years to stop withdrawing from the lake (except for the adjacent cities of Gainesville and Buford), unless Congress authorizes it, or the three states which use the basin come to an agreement. The Atlanta Regional Commission chairman noted that if enforced, cutting drinking water to 75% of the region would require disaster aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Recreationboaters, houseboats, jetskiers and others, particularly around the summer holidays. Over 7.5 million people per year visit the lake, including its marinas and the Lake Lanier Islands waterpark. The rowing and sprint canoeing events during the 1996 Summer Olympics were held at the lake. It also hosted the canoe sprint World Championships in 2003 at the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club.
One resort hotel sits on the lake: Emerald Pointe. A second hotel, Pine Isle was recently demolished. Both were sold by CNL Hotels & Resorts, a hotel investment firm in Florida, to Georgia businessman Virgil Williams. Both assets sit on a ground lease from the Lake Lanier Islands Development Authority which in turn leases the land from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Established in 1957, Holiday Marina has become synonymous with Lake Lanier. Holiday Marina in Buford, Georgia, and Aqualand Marina near the town of Flowery Branch, are two of the largest freshwater marinas in the world.
Lake Lanier was the site of the 1997 Bilderberg conference.
Every year from mid-November through December, Lake Lanier Islands are decorated with over 6 miles (9.7 km) of holiday lights, one of the world's largest light shows. Magical Nights of Lights is an animated drive-through display that ends with a Holiday village, carnival rides, bonfire, Santa Shop, live nativity, etc.
Lake water levels
The dropping water level slowed to 0.05 ft (0.02 m), as measured on November 17, 2007, after local rains continued and the water flow had been reduced at Buford Dam. However, water levels continued to decline almost daily during the month of December 2007 (see table below; December record low levels in bold-face font).
|Water levels at Lake Lanier.|
|New low levels are shown bolded. Record lows are dated 1 day later than table, adding "0.01" foot. (Surface elevation in feet, divide by 3.28 for metres)|
Finally, on February 18, 2008, the water level of Lake Lanier had risen back, above the record-low levels set in November, rising to 1,052.80 ft (320.89 m), even higher than the December 1981 level of 1,052.7 ft (320.9 m), effectively reversing and ending the record-low phase of the drought crisis. As of April 21, 2009, the lake had risen back to 1063.39 feet.
Multiple rain storms further to the south, along the Chattahoochee River to Apalachicola Bay, brought increased fresh water to the Florida wildlife in November and December 2007, despite the reduced water flow from Lake Lanier at Buford Dam. Rainfall along the Chattahoochee River was often greater than at Lake Lanier, spanning the much longer length of the river.
Metropolitan Atlanta received far above-average rainfall amounts throughout September and October 2009, and experienced record floods. On October 14, 2009, Lake Lanier had risen back to above full pool at 1071.01 feet. The record high is 1,077.2 feet (328.3 m), set in April 1964.
- "Growth, growth everywhere but not a drop to drink" News article about the 2007-08 drought
- Lake Lanier daily water levels (measured and posted daily by USACE at Buford Dam): http://water.sam.usace.army.mil/gage/acf/prob1.txt
- Lake Lanier Protection Group
- Lake Lanier News
- Lake Lanier Information
- Lake Lanier - US Army Corps of Engineers
- Lake Lanier Statistics & Historical Data
- Lake Lanier Convention & Visitors Bureau
- Lake Lanier Rowing Club
- Lanier Canoe and Kayak club
- Lake Lanier Water Level Information
- Current Lake Lanier Water Level