The rain last week raised the water level of Lake Lanier about a foot, which likely means that Atlanta’s water supply won’t reach a record low in 2008. As usual, the mainstream media issued stories which said that the rain is good, but the drought isn’t over yet, we’ve got a long way to go, etc. &ct.
Now comes the Southeast River Forecast Center with the best estimate (PDF) I’ve seen for what it will take to get Lake Lanier to full pool — or 1071 feet above sea level, about 20 feet higher than where it is today.
Surprisingly, it’s only 10% above normal rainfall for a year.
The forecast center measured annual precipitation against Lake Lanier’s level since the lake began to fill back in 1952.Â It determined that, on average, 60 inches of rain fell in the lake’s drainage basin per year, providing about 1.36 million acre feet of water.Â Using those figures, and accounting for the fact that the Corps of Engineers has restricted the outflow from Lanier over the past year, the Forecast Center says,
Lake Lanierâ€™s pool was at 1054 feet msl at the beginning of this water year (1.37 million acre-ft). To get to full pool at elevation 1071 feet msl, an additional 585,000 acre-ft of inflow is needed. However, this assumes no outflow. If we apply the annual average outflow of last year for this year (1070 cfs), 775,000 acre-ft are released downstream. So the total inflow volume needed to fill the reservoir and sustain a release similar to last year is 1.36 million acre-ft.
…[T]his would put the total annual precipitation at around 65 inches (following the lower end of the trend). This is only about 10% above normal.
Of course, part of the equation depends on when the water comes. If we get a lot of excessive rain in the winter, it will count more than if we get it in the summer, since the heat and absorption by plants prior to the water reaching the lake will be higher in the summer months. The calculations used in the analysis are based on rain during the water year, which starts on October 1, and there has already been six inches of rainfall. That means there are only 59 inches to go.
I listened to Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle (who is clearly running to become governor in 2010) addressing the Gwinnett Chamber’s monthly meeting this afternoon. He dumped most of the problems with metro Atlanta’s water supply on the Corps of Engineers favoring mussels in Apalachicola Bay over the water needs of Georgia. He also offered an innovative idea for increasing the water available to metro Atlanta. He estimated 10% of the lake’s capacity had been lost due to silt (something I’m not going to argue with). By dredging the lake, Cagle says we could not only expand the lake’s capacity to hold more water, we could recycle and resell any valuable materials that were dredged up.
In my mind, Cagle’s plan will only work if Georgia gets some formal rights to the lake’s water. Based on court decisons and the official use plan for the lake, we aren’t there yet.