The question of “how many days worth of water do we have left?” never seems to have the same answer twice.
The Corps of Engineers say we have 279 days left. The state says we have about 111 days left. CNN says we have 67 days left (81 days left as of 14 days ago). Alabama Gov. Bob Riley thinks we have about 243 days left (250 days left as of a week ago). So what on earth is the right answer?
There are really two parts to this question. First, how long until we hit the 1035 foot mark in Lake Lanier? When that happens, water will no longer flow over Buford Dam. From there, we’ll need to use barges and pumps to get the water from that level, also known as the “dead pool”. Not only will the water be more difficult to get out, but it will be dirtier and require additional treatment. That leads to the second question — how long will the dead pool water last?
The dead pool estimates are few and far between. The Corps says that there are 169 days worth of water in the dead pool and I’ve not found anything to contradict that. The question is whether or not they can pump it out quickly enough to keep things rolling.
The tougher question is knowing how much longer until we get to the dead pool stage. Break out your calculators.
The last four weeks has seen a total drop in Lake Lanier of 3.22 feet. That works out to an average of about 0.8 feet per week (around 9-1/2 inches). Right now Lanier is at 1055.6 feet and the dead pool begins at 1035 feet — a difference of 20.5 feet. 20.5 feet, losing 0.8 feet per week, will last about 25.5 weeks, or 179 days.
However, this doesn’t take into account the fact that the drop in lake level will likely accelerate a little bit as it goes lower. Also, the last four weeks included 1.14 inches of rain, so if the next few weeks are dry (as predicted), the lake will also drop more quickly than it has for the past month.
So what’s the answer? It’s obviously very hard to say. My wild guess would be about 20 weeks (140 days), assuming a little bit of rain and no change in the Corps release levels. That puts us in mid-March. At that point, they could start using the dead pool and we’d see how things go from there.