Jim Stockslager examined a patch of soggy ground near the barns at the Huntcliff subdivision.
The sky was clear at the moment, but the wet ground could still offer a sign of things to come. For now, though, the immediate future looked acceptable.
“This level’s OK,” Stockslager, past president of the Huntcliff Homeowners Association, said that day in April. “It’s close. But this isn’t bad.”
At other times, it can be bad. Sometimes, Stockslager says, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers releases water from Lake Lanier at Buford Dam to create electricity, the water backs up and floods Huntcliff’s horse paddocks and other areas along the Chattahoochee River.
The corps says it has taken action to address the problem.
A river gauge near Roswell measures the rise in the river when Lanier is releasing water, said Pat Robbins, public relations chief for the Corps of Engineers office in Birmingham, which oversees operations at Lake Lanier. When the gauge hits 8 feet, it’s called the “action stage,” meaning action should be taken to prevent downstream flooding, Robbins said. The flood state is 9 feet. The levels have been reduced, he said, to curtail flooding.
“We make every attempt to operate Lanier so we don’t exceed the 8-feet action stage … ,” Robbins said. “I understand their dilemma. All their facilities are in a low-lying area and in certain situations, it’s going to flood down there.”
Stockslager says that lowering the level at which corps officials take action to prevent floods has helped. “We’re heading in the right direction,” he said.
But, he said, there still are periodic problems, mostly during times of heavy rain, when Lanier is full. “We only flood when they get excess water [in Lake Lanier],” he said.
He says he can see the water coming on the Internet. From his home overlooking a hole on the community golf course, he watches computer graphs that continually monitor Lanier’s lake levels and water releases.
Stockslager has come to believe that a certain pattern in those releases can translate into downstream flooding. Ten to 12 hours after the water is released from Buford Dam, he said, downstream problems can begin.
He even has coined a name for it: “Flooding without rain.”
“It’s been happening over the years,” he said. “But it wasn’t near as bad as it’s been over the last two years.”
He thinks the corps needs to do more than it’s doing to prevent the flooding. “They need to change their operating procedure slightly,” he said.
He wants the corps to put a new water level meter on the river that would measure water levels closer to Huntcliff. But Robbins said that’s not the Corps of Engineers’ job. The river gauges, he said, are installed and monitored by a different federal agency.
Huntcliff’s paddocks area has flooded a few times this year, in February and March, Stockslager said. In May 2010, it flooded repeatedly, he said.
“Nothing has changed,” he said.
Except the weather, of course. With Lake Lanier no longer full, the threat of sustained water releases and subsequent downstream flooding is lessened, Stockslager admits. These days, he’s spending time thinking of how to pump a little extra river water to the horse paddocks to keep down the dust.