Monday, July 29, 2013

Lake Lanier Scientific Lab Analysis - Something Fishy Here but Not The Trout

I live within 15 miles of  Lake Lanier in the great State of Georgia.  Since moving here years ago there have been years of heavy rainfall and periods of drought and then there has been severe drought.  Unpredictable weather patterns bring rain or lack thereof over long periods of time. Yes it's the weather always changing as per God's will.  Recently, the lake has recovered water level from a record low level recorded in Dec. 2007. After several years of severe drought and mandated stringent water restrictions in surrounding counties supplied by the lake resources the lake recovery has been nothing short of astounding.  Following ample rainfall for the last two years the lake is now at full pool level and has been for some time now.  However, rain continues to fall from the heavens in ample fashion but the lake levels do not rise?  Why is that? One thing that is constant is the battle for control of the lakes resources and how much water is discharged down the river, the Chattahoochee that is.  The river and the prize possession that is Lake Lanier have been the center of hotly contentious court battles.  Using statistics easily available on-line I can show that something is fishy at the lake concerning lake level, rainfall, discharge at the Buford Dam, and the political football that is control of the lake resources by the surrounding states-Georgia, Alabama, and Florida.  All three states have stakes in this resource and the downstream monetary benefits of Lake Lanier.

Lake Sidney Lanier was constructed by building a dam in Buford GA on the Chattahoochee River in 1956.  Currently the lake encompasses 59 sq. miles.  After passage of an act of congress, appropriations were made to pay for the construction of the dam and clear land for the lake.  Once complete, the lake efficiently filled and in April 1964, a record high level was set at 1077 ft. above sea level.  Over the years, Lake Lanier has supplied water to surrounding counties and industry under the supervision of the Army Corps of Engineers. 

Year after year lake water levels are monitored.  Records are easily available for rainfall, lake level, discharge amounts, various quantities, time schedules, etc.   Because of the financial implications surrounding release of water from the lake and the monetary benefits reaped by downstream states like Alabama and Florida the issue has been publicized heavily, battles have been won in court to determine who should have access to this resource.  Most recently an impartial judge declared that Georgians do have the right to drink the water from Lake Lanier opposing the views of Alabama and Florida plaintiffs stating GA Residents have no right to and should immediately stop using water from Lake Lanier.  How ridiculous! Why in the world would there be an argument of denying Georgia communities access to the drinking water resource that is Lake Lanier so that business downstream could benefit more from the lake being emptied to nearly critical and historical low levels?  Why MONEY of course.  It's always the money.  Under a subterfuge of wildlife conservation and protecting endangered species the lake was almost drained dry in latter 2007.  Those screaming for more water downstream to protect wildlife were also selling such wildlife at market for a premium.  Hardly what I would call "wildlife preservation and protecting endangered species indigenous to wildlife areas". While Georgians who rely on the lake for drinking water not only embraced tough legal restrictions on usage also surpassed expected conservation targets while doing so throughout the recent drought conditions plaguing the Atlanta Metro and surrounding counties.   What did the downstream states do for conservation?  They brought the State of Georgia to court with hopes of having a Federal Judge rule that Georgians don't have a right to drink a glass of water from Lake Lanier and that all consumption should stop so that the lake located in the middle of North Georgia would solely supply water to fish and game industry in Alabama and Florida.  Arguments and court action brought forward by the surrounding states of Georgia to force the Army Corps of Engineers to increase release amounts are nothing new and have been going on for decades.  In 2005 the Army Corps upgraded measuring devices at the lake to determine what and when gets released through Buford Dam.  After the equipment upgrades were completed startling amounts of water were being released from the lake and anyone familiar with those discharges knew the amount released was too much.  After months of complaints from local residents around the lake and attention to the matter given by then GA Governor Sonny Purdue that too much water was being released, the Army Corpse finally re-calibrated the equipment.  Low and behold, releases from the dam were verified as too much by the Army Corpse but all was too late.  The record low level of the lake attained on Dec.26th, 2007 at 1050.79 was officially declared a man-caused disaster courtesy of the mis-calibration of the newly installed equipment.  Why did it take so long for engineers to realize the discharges were dangerously high?  The lake was at its lowest level in history; drought conditions in the region were getting real scary. After this man-caused disaster the lake did not recover for about 30 months.  What I am afraid of now is with the recent elevated rates of rainfall in the Atlanta region, lake levels are not increasing like one would expect.  Lake levels are remaining constant and set at a full pool of 1072 ft. above sea level.  The water[rain] has to go somewhere.  Obviously, Downstream industry is benefiting immensely but there is no publicity about that.  Like the rat stealing the cheese the rat shuns away from publicity for fear other rats will catch on to the windfall or the controlling interests will regulate restriction on industry much like communities had access restricted during drought conditions.  More about the impending water grab later.  Why not raise the lake level?  Why not squirrel away water for when there are not plentiful rainy days like there are now?  The downstream industry has an insatiable apatite for the water resource that is Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee.  For the love of money, the lake could be drained dry and local residents would be bathing in FEMA supplied bottled water to the chagrin of the "endangered" Sturgeon and Muscle farmers downstream.  Lot's of rain and stable lake level are making for a tough denial of the fish farmers downstream.
Army Corps of Engineers? - Raise the lake level already! 
Here are my facts:
Rain fall in Atlanta Metro Region:
Time period: Jan. 2009 - June 2009

25.77" Rainfall
 Lake levels started recovery from record low level attained in 2007.

Lake Lanier water levels:
2009 Lake Level increased 12.88"
Jan. 2009  Lake Level = 1053.14 ft. (Above Sea Level)
June 2013  Lake Level = 1066.02 ft. (Above Sea Level)

Time period: Jan. 2013 - June 2103
 Rain fall in Atlanta Metro Region:
37.32 " Rainfall

 Lake Lanier water levels:
Jan. 2013 Lake Level = 1058.12 ft. (Above Sea Level)
June 2013 Lake Level = 1072.00 ft. (Above Sea Level - Full Pool)

Discharge Rates from Buford Dam:
Jan 2013 average discharge = 5,000 Cu Ft/Second
July 2013 Average discharge = 10,000 Cu Ft/Second
 Comparing Jan - June time period between years 2009 and 2013, 30.9% more rain fell in 2013 than in 2009.  Lake level increased 12.88" in 1st 6 months of 2009.  In 1st 6 months of 2013 the lake only gained 13.88"???  Full pool was achieved in June 2013 and has remained constant everyday since then.  This is possible because of one reason only.  With increased rainfall and same consumption usage by municipalities for drinking water, the only answer is increased release amounts on a daily basis as shown below.

Records show that Chattahoochee River level directly downstream from Buford Dam have increased dramatically in just three days from 4.6' on July 24 2013 to 5.5' on July 25 2013 remaining same and constant on July 26 2013. The graph below courtesy of shows that for July 2013 steady elevated rate of release has been maintained throughout the month.
 Discharges done in Jan. 2013.
       Discharges were fewer and much less in quantity!

NOTE: Both graphs show the 57 year median discharge rate which is about 1,000 Cu Ft/Second.
For the month of July 2013, releases are daily and amount is >10,000 Cu Ft/Second (~74,800 gps) causing the downstream river level to increase to record high levels.

That is an alarming rate of discharge!  Why haven't anyone down stream complained that river levels are flooding surrounding areas and local wildlife?  More about that later...
Suppose with current rainfall levels the Army Corps decreased release rate by a miniscule 10%.  Roughly the 57 year median discharge rate. What would happen?  Release rate would drop to 9,000 Cu.Ft/second (~67,320 gps).  Lake level could then increase by approximately 2.54" per month under current rainfall level and conservation restrictions.   At that rate of discharge, Lake Lanier could attain the record high level set in April 1964 (1077 ft. Above Sea Level) in about 23.5 months.  Considering that the current rainfall levels remain constant or increase over the next 2-3 years and self imposed water use restrictions decrease consumption, the lake could attain that April 1964 level in under 18 months.
Why is this not happening?  Sturgeon and muscle Farming Industry has a hand in the turmoil.  Atlanta metro has its own major water waster that is sold to the public as entertainment.  Stone Mountain Park has attractions run by a private company.  That amusement company produces snow at the rate of ~60,000 gallons water from Lake Lanier per day to run an attraction called "Snow Mountain".  Boasting a 5 football field size hill of man-made snow the water waste is incredible running from Nov 25th - mid February every winter season.  All total about 5 million gallons of water  per season would be wasted to make snow.  All so people could pay >$40 to tube down a hill of snow in the middle of Georgia in February of 2013.  In the 2007-2008 Snow Mountain season, public outcry was so loud about the water waste that the attraction had its plug pulled.  Currently, there are heated legal battles going on for control of Florida water resources.   One current forefront battle being waged in Florida ( a recipient of Ga water resources) has a Canadian Company officially applying for a permit to suck 250,000 gallons per day of water for the use of a sturgeon farm which will produce caviar priced in excess of $3,500 USD per kG.  Another Florida legal battle is underway with a permit filed to suck 7.2 million gallons per day of water for another sturgeon farm.  This does not sound like activists fighting against the extinction of a rare fish that only survives on a farm for the sole purpose of producing a delicacy most people can't afford for the amount spread on a cracker, never the less who would want a kilo of that stuff.

There is something fishy at the lake and it is not the trout I am talking about.  It is the big money interests hiding behind a veil of "conservation" while producing high dollar snacks for the rich and famous.  I am afraid that Georgia, Florida, and Alabama Governments, Army Corps of Engineers, and big business are in a love triangle.  For the love of water is the love of money.  This has nothing to do with fish and game conservation or endangered species.  It is the river of money and we the people who depend on the lake for drinking water are up the creek without a paddle.

I implore those with the powers to do so to tell the sturgeon and muscle farm industries to take a hike.  They have nothing else in their concern but to drain all natural resource for financial gain while near disaster lurks in the delicate balance between rainfall, lake levels, consumption, and conservation.  To date, there are still restrictions in place with fines and penalties imposed for residents using water for non-sanctioned uses such as spraying kids with water in 90* heat and washing cars.  Yet, big business is filing permits to draw millions of gallons per day to cultivate a fish producing roe that sells for  $110 per oz.

Something is fishy and it stinks.

Scott R. Mayorga A.A.S., BS MT(ASCP)H CLS

Special thanks to the following websites for resource material:

1 comment:

Mark Williams said...

I read thru your article twice and find one flaw. You are not taking into consideration the "Water Management Plan" for Lanier that dictates a target level of 1071msl during the summer. The Corps large releases are an attempt to hit that target level but due to heavy rainfall it has been difficult to achieve without significantly increasing the discharge CFS. Releasing more over a sustained period would cause some moderate flooding downstream and that is not a desirable condition. The Corps is not mandated to increase water storage above 1071 for drought protection. This just isn't going to happen until the Water Management Plan is revised which is currently underway.

So, in a nutshell 1071msl is the target summer level taking into consideration mandated downstream water needs. Not a sustained 1072 or higher. I think this week you will start seeing the lake go down due to a current dry spell compared to the previous month. Also, the Corps is taking a big risk as we go into hurricane season by keeping the lake as high as it is. One good hurricane track across Lanier will put it into flood control mode which puts excess stress on the dam structures and will eventually result in larger releases to lower the lake level. Its a quite a balancing act that they have to do.

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