Current Georgia Lake Levels
Lake levels across Georgia fluctuate on a daily basis. Low lake levels create dangerous obstacles in many of Georgia’s lakes. This website is dedicated to provide you the latest water level information for many lakes in Georgia. The following lake level information is updated daily.
Georgia is blessed with an abundance of lakes located throughout the state. Many of the major lakes are either federal reservoirs operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or reservoirs owned by the Georgia Power Company. Other smaller lakes are owned and operated by local municipalities or other entities.
The larger lakes in Georgia such as Lake Lanier, Lake Allatoona, West Point Lake, Lake Sinclair, Lake Jackson and Hartwell Lake are man-made reservoirs. Some of these Georgia lake levels fluctuate because they are operated for multiple purposes such as hydropower, flood damage reduction, navigation, water supply and water quality. The lakes were built to capture the flow of water during the wet periods when there is an abundance of rainfall and use the water during the dry periods when rainfall is less abundant. The power company lakes were built specifically for hydropower production but some of them also operate for flood damage reduction. All the lakes have some component of recreation activity that occurs around the shores of the lakes. Recreational usage is also considered in the operation of the lakes.
During the fall months, Georgia lake levels may be drawn down from their normal summer operating levels to prepare for the wetter winter months. This allows them to capture more of the higher flows that occur in the winter and gradually evacuate the flows following an event. This is why the lakes will fluctuate up and down as rainfall events occur.
For example, Lake Allatoona has a full summer operating level of elevation 840 feet above sea level. During the fall, the full operating level is reduced to elevation 824 feet above seal level to allow more flood storage for capturing the heavy rainfall of winter. When a large storm event occurs, the lake may rise rapidly since flow from the dam is reduced to minimize flood impacts downstream of the dam. Once the event has passed and downstream levels subside, the excess water is released to bring the lake level back to its prescribed winter level. Both Hartwell Lake and West Point Lake both have a significant winter drawdowns.
Lake Lanier is not drawn down as much in the winter as Lake Allatoona as it only has one-foot drawdown in the winter. However, it does have significant flood storage above its normal summer operating level to accommodate the increased winter flows into the lake.
The biggest cause of fluctuating lake levels is a combination of the lakes meeting their intended purposes and the impacts due to droughts. Water may be released to support hydropower, navigation, water supply and water quality that may draw upon the storage in the lake and when droughts occur, this will result in less water coming into the project than what is released. During periods when normal rainfall occurs, the lakes may be able to meet their downstream needs and still maintain the lake at full or nearly full levels.
Since Lake Lanier, Lake Allatoona, West Point Lake and Hartwell Lake all have significant recreational usage; many recreational users will be impacted by the declining lake levels. However, even when these lakes are not full, there are still recreational opportunities at each of these lakes. While recreation is impacted during droughts, the other purposes may not receive their total needs since operations must be adjusted to ensure that adequate water is available to meet all the needs during a prolonged drought that could extend for more than one year.
Lake Lanier has been the focal point of the “water wars” that have occurred between the states of Alabama, Florida and Georgia over the last twenty years. Lake Lanier is the primary water source for the City of Atlanta and the surrounding metropolitan area. The water utilities in metro Atlanta either pull its water directly from Lake Lanier or from the Chattahoochee River which must have daily releases from Buford Dam in order to meet demand. During normal or wet periods, meeting these needs do not impact the lake levels and the lake can remain full or nearly full. During droughts, since there is less water coming into Lake Lanier, the water supply demand and other flow requirements as far away as the Apalachicola River in Florida at the lower end of the system will cause the lake level to decline.
It may seem odd that Lake Lanier has to supply water for locations. Lake Lanier is the uppermost lake of the five Corps of Engineer lakes on the river system. Because it is also the Corps lake with the largest storage capacity (about 60 percent), it plays a significant role in helping to meet the needs of the entire system. It also has the smallest drainage basin of all five Corps lakes on the river system. This means that it may have lake level declines that are more acute than the others on the system since it can only refill its storage when rainfall occurs.
Lake Allatoona provides some water supply for some areas of metro Atlanta such as Cobb County. Since this is a smaller demand compared to that of Lake Lanier, Allatoona may not experience as significant a drawdown as Lanier during droughts. However, since it is on another river system, its lake level fluctuations may be dictated by demand on that system and how a drought impacts its headwaters and reservoir storage.
As the headwater lake on the Savannah River system, Lake Hartwell may have similar behavior as Lanier and Allatoona during droughts. Although it doesn’t have the exact same impacts since it doesn’t have to supply water for a metro area as large as Atlanta. Most of the Georgia Power Company lakes such as Lake Sinclair, Lake Oconee, Lake Jackson and Lake Burton may not experience as significant a decline during droughts because they typically only operate for the singular purpose of hydropower generation. When there is less water, they generate less power. The reduced power is made up from other power sources owned by the Georgia Power Company such as coal, gas or nuclear.
When comparing Georgia lake levels, one must be aware of the type of dam and the purposes it supports, the weather conditions and what is occurring on the river system on which it sits. All of these factors may result in fluctuating lake levels. One should also remember that most of these lakes are man-made reservoirs. When water is being drawn from them they are more than likely fulfilling the purposes for which they were built.