Already, the lake’s water level is down 14 feet from its summer peak of 840 feet above sea level, leaving docks sitting on dirt and boat ramps leading nowhere. And more water loss is expected.
James Hathorn, chief of water management for the Corps of Engineers Mobile district, said the Corps draws Allatoona’s pool level down 17 feet each year, from 840 feet in the summer down to 823 feet by mid-December, to prepare for the rainier winter months.
As of Friday, Allatoona was down to just less than 826 feet.
“It has been dry, but we have been able to keep it near the guide curve,” Hathorn said.
The Corps is working on a new water control manual that could change the lake’s release schedule. Glenn Page, general manager of the Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority, hopes that could mean a change in its current drawdown schedule.
A draft of the environmental impact statement is expected to be released in February, followed by a public comment period, Page said. The final version is expected next fall.
Page, who met with Corps officials Wednesday in Mobile, said they were tight-lipped about what will be in the new manual.
“They’re not really talking about it until it comes out,” he said.
Corps spokeswoman Lisa Parker said the Corps received a number of queries from the public and agencies involved with the lake, which will be incorporated into the draft manual. A public meeting on the draft manual will take place in March.
“That’s going to be our way forward after that,” she said.
The lake level at Allatoona is brought down more than any of the other lakes in the Mobile district, Hathorn said. By lowering Allatoona, the Corps allows more rain water storage, thus reducing the threat to downstream communities like Cartersville and Rome once the rainy season starts.
In the past, the lake has risen 13 feet in a week due to heavy rain, Hathorn said.
“We were able to prevent significant flooding downstream in the city of Rome,” he said.
But Page said he is concerned about what could happen in case of a severe drought, which would prevent the lake levels from rising as expected. He points to 2007, when water levels got down to 818 feet, the lowest level since the lake opened in 1946 and just above the “critical” level of 810 feet. This forced the water authority to open the lowest of its three release gates in its tower for the first time.
“I would like to see less winter drawdown and I think we could see a higher summer pool, but I’m not a hydrologist,” Page said.
The nonprofit Lake Allatoona Association recently rolled out a plan for the lake that borders Cobb, Cherokee and Bartow counties and draws 9 million visitors a year. The group called for increasing normal summer pool level by two feet, starting the annual increase in pool levels four weeks earlier, starting the annual drawdown six weeks later than it currently does and only dropping the level by nine feet in the winter, rather than 17. In September, Lake Allatoona Association members said the plan would allow for more recreation on the lake and reduce erosion threats.
Association officials did not return calls seeking comment for this story.
Parker said the release of the water control manual will be historic. While the Corps is expected to issue such reports every 10 years, Allatoona’s manual has been delayed by litigation involving the “water wars” dispute between Georgia, Florida and Alabama.
“It’s taken more than 20 years to get to where it is,” she said.