Water levels to drop again at Harris, Martin, Smith, Weiss Lakes; Boat owners should take steps to protect property

BIRMINGHAM – The record-setting drought is forcing Alabama Power to take additional steps to meet requirements for protecting water quality and navigation. As a result, water levels at Harris, Martin, Smith and Weiss Lakes are expected to drop significantly over the next few weeks. By the end of July, the reservoirs will be at levels never seen before at this time of year.

The water level at Lake Harris, on the Tallapoosa River, will be drawn down to 785 feet by late July. Lake Martin, also on the Tallapoosa, is expected to drop to 480 feet by early August. That’s 8 feet below the normal summer level for Harris and 10 feet below the summer level at Martin.

Weiss Lake, on the Coosa River, is expected to fall to about 561 feet by early August, about 3 feet below the normal summer level. Smith Lake, at the headwaters of the Black Warrior River, is expected to drop to about 500 feet by late July, about 5 feet below the normal level for that time of year.

This year’s drought is the worst ever recorded for north and central Alabama. Streams that feed Alabama Power lakes are at historic lows for this time of year. In addition, evaporation is having a significant impact on the reservoirs. Since April, Alabama Power lakes have lost about 1.5 feet of elevation from evaporation alone.

In May, Alabama Power sought relief from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reduce the amount of water the company must release from its dams. The company also asked the Corps to let more water flow into Alabama from Corps reservoirs in Georgia.

Stakeholders who are upstream of Alabama Power reservoirs have voiced opposition to the company’s request for more water to be released from Corps-operated reservoirs in Georgia. In addition, stakeholders downstream of Alabama Power lakes are opposing reductions in water flows through the company’s dams.

In June, Corps officials said they would require a full environmental assessment to be completed before they make any decision on Alabama Power’s requests – a process that can take months.

Earlier this year, Alabama Power reduced the water it releases from its dams to the minimum required by the company’s federal hydroelectric project licenses. The company also indefinitely suspended weekend recreational releases of water from Jordan Dam.

Alabama Power must make certain releases from the lakes to meet requirements for navigation, fisheries, water supply and water quality. During the ongoing drought, the company has operated its hydro facilities with one purpose in mind: to manage the extremely limited water resources in the most effective way.

The release of water from Weiss Lake on the upper Coosa will also affect reservoirs downstream. Water levels at Lay, Mitchell and Jordan Lakes are expected to fluctuate as water travels down the Coosa.

With the drought continuing and no significant rain forecast for the near future, people should be aware that lake levels are going to continue to drop as summer progresses. Individuals with boats and other water-related equipment and facilities should always be alert to changing conditions on Alabama Power reservoirs and be prepared to take the necessary steps to protect their property.

For the latest on lake levels and Alabama Power’s effort to manage through the drought, visit www.alabamapower.com and click on “drought.” Information can also be obtained by calling Alabama Power's automated Reservoir Information System at 1-800-LAKES11 (1-800-525-3711).