The ESPN Bassmasters Elite will bring hundreds of fishermen and thousands of spectators to the lake May 5-8, preceded March 26 by what the West Point Lake Coalition wants to be its biggest cleanup.
The mega boat ramp at Pyne Road Park is complete, the Army Corps of Engineers has allowed for larger docks and a project to put lighted buoys on the lake’s main tributaries is nearly complete.
But action at the state and federal level has guaranteed it will be a big year for the lake off the water as well.
The corps is finishing the first draft of the update of the water-control manual for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin, which includes West Point Lake. This draft will be ready for review - and public comment - by summer.
“I look forward to seeing that first draft,” said Dick Timmerberg, director of the lake coalition.
A federal judge’s ruling in 2009 on the tristate “water wars” likely set the stage for how the water plan will be updated, or at least that’s what locals are hoping. U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson, charged with attempting to solve the decades-long water wars case, said Lake Lanier couldn’t be used to supply water to metro Atlanta, because water supply wasn’t one of the congressionally authorized purposes when that lake was impounded.
Local water watchers were thrilled with that ruling, because it gives more weight to West Point Lake’s congressional authorizations. West Point was the first federal lake authorized for recreation.
“The judge said those federal authorizations should take priority,” Timmerberg said. “We anticipate positive changes made to the water-control plan to reflect our authorizations.”
Local observers also are keeping an eye on negotiations among the three states - Georgia, Florida and Alabama - to solve the water wars, that will continue as three new governors take office. In spite of Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue’s promise, he was unable to broker a deal among the three states before leaving office.
Gov.-elect Nathan Deal, a Gainesville Republican, has said he’s for the creation of new reservoirs. Deal also is in favor of interbasin transfers, which would allow a city, county or other water authority to take water for supply from one basin and return it to another.
“I appreciate the fact (Deal) has said he will protect all of Georgia’s interests,” Timmerberg said.
Local lake advocates have been against interbasin transfers in principal, because it could deplete one basin’s supply and result in the return of lower quality water.
Timmerberg said he’s not opposed to new reservoir construction, with one major caveat: “If it’s used for storage only,” he said. “The minute you put houses on it and start offering amenities, you’ve exacerbated the problem, not solved it.”
Coming along the federal water action, Georgia has spent the last year working on its statewide water plan, working through local water councils. The councils recently were given an extension, from January to May, to get their plans to the state Environmental Protection Division with a time for public comment this summer. Completed water plans, which will address supply and usage, will be released by EPD in late 2011.
The Middle Chattahoochee Water Council, of which LaGrange and Troup County are part, had been one of several councils to ask for the extension to be able to see what the corps comes up with in its water plan. Tim Cash, EPD branch manager, said the May extension “doesn’t take the corps into account” because the corps’ plan won’t come out until later in the summer.
LaGrange Mayor Jeff Lukken, who sits on the Middle Chattahoochee Council, said the corps has been helpful in giving the state information it asks for regarding the water plan. The work has come in balancing the interests up and down the basin, from Lake Lanier to Columbus’s plans for a whitewater park along the Chattahoochee River in the city.
“It’s been laborious and tedious,” Lukken admitted last week. “We are making progress and working on language we can all live with.”
Jennifer Shrader may be reached at jshrader@ lagrangenews.com or at (706) 884-7311, Ext. 236.