OMAHA — Richard Day wishes people would stop moving to Atlanta, but he realizes that will continue and more people will need water.

“The thing that concerns me is the growth of Atlanta,” said Day, a volunteer at the Florence Marina State Park, along Lake Walter F. George south of Columbus. “The bigger it gets, the more water they need. They’ve got to have water and recreation. But people down below have to have it, too.”

In the latest flare-up of the tri-state water wars, an ongoing battle between Georgia, Alabama and Florida for a fair share of the water in the Chattahoochee River Basin, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue complained that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is releasing too much water from reservoirs along the river, including Lake George, to provide protection for imperiled sturgeon and mussels in Florida.

State officials said low levels on Lake George, about 40 miles south of Columbus, have already disrupted boating and bass fishing, but that wasn’t apparent during a visit to the state park and across the lake in Eufaula, Ala.

As boaters and anglers headed out Friday morning, Day was preparing to take hundreds of visitors into the lake Saturday for the park’s annual Alligator Day. The event attracts 800 to 1,000 people. They get to see a 3-foot alligator up close in an education center and, if they’re lucky, they might spot a 14-footer during the boat ride.

Meanwhile, Ed Langley and his son, Wesley, 16, of Wetumpka, Ala., launched their brand-new bass boat at about daybreak Friday and headed out to fish. They acknowledged that the water level is down a few feet.

“As long as you stay in the main channels, you’re all right,” Langley said.

He said the lower water level made it harder to catch fish, because they move from the shallow grass beds into deeper water.

“You have to fish harder to get it to work,” he said.

Foy and Sandra Pippin of Cataula, in Harris County, climbed aboard their two-week old pontoon boat at a dock with their granddaughter, Savannah, 7, and headed out to begin their second day of fishing.

“We did fairly well on the bass and bream and good on the catfish,” said Pippin, a retiree who fishes two to three days a week.

Savannah said she was frightened by a 6-foot alligator on Thursday — one of two they saw — but still managed to catch 15 bream and two catfish using hooks baited by her grandmother.

“It looked like a monster,” she said of the alligator, one of many in the lake.

Bill Smallwood, the Corps’ operations manager for the Chattahoochee, Flint and Apalachicola rivers, said Lake George was only about three feet below full pool which is 190 feet above sea level. The Chattahoochee flows southwest from the Atlanta area to form the border between Georgia and Alabama. It joints with the Flint at Lake Seminole in extreme southwestern Georgia to form the Apalachicola, which flows through the Florida Panhandle to the Gulf of Mexico.

Smallwood said the Corps begins closing boat ramps when there’s a drastic drop in the water level, but has not had to do that so far this year. A spokeswoman for BASS, a leading organizer of bass-fishing tournaments, said no events have had to be canceled or moved in Georgia, Florida or Alabama because of low water.

The Corps has increased releases from dams along the Chattahoochee in response to a federal lawsuit filed by the state of Florida. The suit claimed the Corps was not providing enough water to sustain mussels and Gulf sturgeon spawning in the Apalachicola as required by the federal Endangered Species Act.

But the bickering over water was not apparent along the banks of Lake George as an osprey dived for a fish on the Alabama side and barn swallows flitted over the water catching mayflies.

Day noted that the lake level dropped seven feet during the severe drought from 1998 to 2000. The Atlanta-metro area imposed water restrictions, along with the rest of the state, but never ran out of water.

“This lake stays pretty constant at about 1 foot below normal pool,” said Day, who has been a park volunteer since 1989. “If you don’t know the lake, you’re subject to get into shallow water at any level.”

Concerned that Atlanta might run out of water this summer, Gov. Perdue sent a letter to Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey recently, claiming that Lake Lanier, West Point Lake, Lake George and Lake Seminole — all along the Chattahoochee River — “will be drawn down to their lowest level in recorded history” unless the Corps scales back its releases.

However, Corps officials say Georgia is using incorrect modeling to predict how low the reservoirs will go this summer. The Corps’ calculations show the reservoirs will not drop any lower than they did in 2000, said Pat Robbins, spokesman for the Corps’ Mobile District.

Georgians know the lake between Georgetown and Eufaula, Ala., as Lake Walter F. George, but Alabamans call it Lake Eufaula.

John Mills, chatting with two buddies in a Eufaula fast-food restaurant, said he doesn’t fish much, but enjoys taking his pontoon boat out on the lake. Mills said he’s had no problems launching his boat, but he acknowledged that the level has dropped and that everybody along the river, including Atlanta residents, need more water.

“It’s a drought,” he said. “We need rain. They’re not going to have as much water and neither are we.”

React to this story:



Recommended for you