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Less Water This Winter
UPDATE: Due to abundant rains throughout the season, Alabama Power has announced they will keep Lake Martin at full summer pool levels and begin the annual drawdown on October 15. This falls under the provisional extension permitted by the dam’s FERC license if conditions allow.
Lake drawdown will be an additional three feet
Okay, it does seem a bit crazy to talk about winter water levels in mid-July. It also seems extra crazy to think about lower lake levels after what seems like rain nearly every day. But at the risk of being a “Debbie downer,” we thought it wise to advise everyone that this is the winter that the scheduled winter drawdown will be three feet more than usual.
Alabama Power Company (APCO) operates the Lake Martin reservoir under a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Lake Martin was created primarily for hydro-electric generation in the 1920s. In addition to that mandate, APCO has additional responsibilities related to the management of the lake. One of those is flood control. This calls for a winter drawdown of the lake level which creates extra capacity for winter and early spring rainfalls to help prevent downstream flooding.
In December of 2015, APCO received from FERC a renewal for the license to manage the reservoir. Under the new license, there was a significant change to the winter drawdown schedule. Under the old license, APCO was mandated to drop the lake level ten feet beginning on September 1 of each year—from 491 feet above sea level down to 481 feet above sea level.
With the new license, the winter lake level would be three feet higher than the old level, or only a seven-foot drawdown. This extra three feet was a big enhancement to many of the property owners on Lake Martin. The first winter this new rule went into effect was 2016.
The “Sixth Year” rule
So, given the new seven-foot drawdown, you might wonder why APCO will be drawing the lake level down ten feet this winter. As part of the review process for the new license, it was determined that drawing the lake down ten feet every “sixth year” would help in the installation and repairs of waterfront features like piers and seawalls. Situations where dredging might be approved also benefit by having a dry lakebed for the operation of construction equipment.
Planning for Winter 2021-2022
For those looking to make needed repairs or installation of waterfront features, now would be a great time to start your planning. The time it takes to get plans drawn, budgets set, permits in hand and contractors lined up can take a few months, so it makes sense to start now. The lower lake levels will reverse starting in February of 2022, so the low-level “work window” is fairly short.
Implications for property search
Also, if you are considering purchasing a waterfront property and desire year-round water, remember that every sixth year you will have a ten-foot drawdown, not just the “new normal” seven-foot drawdown to take into account during your selection process.
If you want a tip from the real estate pros, flatter lots tend to have slightly shallower water. Steeper lots tend to have deeper water. The visible slope on land tends to extend into the lake. Another tip from the pros is to get a boat 60 feet from shore and measure the depth (a depth finder, a rope marked in one-foot increments with a weight, or a carpenter’s tape measure are helpful tools of the trade).
Once you know the depth, check the lake level with the APCO Shorelines website and do the math to determine winter levels. For instance, current lake levels are roughly 490.5 feet above sea level. This winter’s level will be 481 feet above sea level. That means you will subtract 9.5 feet from your measured depth. If your measured depth is 18 feet today, good news! You will have 8.5 feet of water this winter and 11.5 feet on a normal winter.
If this sounds like a lot of work, call one of our agents who can walk you through this process. Better yet, they can take you on a boat ride, so you can find the depth together!