Residents and visitors are gearing up for a summer of fun in 2017 on Alabama Power lakes. But it took many months of planning, coordination and careful management – plus some help from Mother Nature – to ensure the water would be there for everyone’s enjoyment this upcoming summer season.
It was actually last summer that Alabama Power’s hydro team began coordinating with state and federal agencies to conserve water resources as the drought of 2016 slowly grew and then lingered well into this year. Alabama Power is the state’s largest water manager.
The company put into action its drought plan in June 2016, when drier-than-normal conditions, and drier-than-normal long-term weather predictions, forewarned of a more serious drought come autumn. By fall, as the drought intensified, the company had already reduced releases from its hydroelectric dams, in consultation with state and federal officials, and suspended recreational water releases from Jordan Dam on the Coosa River.
Early winter rains and the company’s conservation efforts helped ease the impact of the drought on Alabama Power lakes as 2016 ended. But by early 2017 the rains slowed again, and moderate winter temperatures triggered an early plant bloom. Streams that should have been flowing well through winter and into spring remained far below normal, raising concerns that it would be difficult to bring Alabama Power’s lakes up to their normal summer levels later in the year.
With approval from state and federal officials, Alabama Power worked to capture as much rain as possible and began to raise its reservoirs earlier than normal. April showers also helped to improve conditions.
The result: Alabama Power’s six storage lakes – Lakes Harris and Martin on the Tallapoosa River; Smith Lake on the Black Warrior River; and Weiss, Neely Henry, Logan Martin lakes on the Coosa River – are now at their summer levels.
“We can certainly thank Mother Nature for the rain, but without a lot of close coordination and planning ahead of the rains, our lakes may not have been in as good shape as they are now,” said Alan Peeples, the company’s reservoir manager. Peeples said more rain, in healthy doses, will be needed to keep lake levels up through the summer.
He said the company worked closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and other agencies to carefully manage the limited water resources during the worst of the drought. As part of that process, Peeples said, the company engineers work closely with the Alabama Drought Assessment and Planning Team, or ADAPT, to monitor conditions and evaluate potential impacts.
“The statewide drought planning process is a coordinated effort,” Peeples said. “It involves a large number of stakeholders and water managers. The goal is to plan, and manage the resources, and then make decisions to minimize, to the extent possible, the local impacts of droughts.”
Indeed, even though the drought has eased in Alabama, at the end of April, 87 percent of the state was still facing at least “abnormally dry” conditions, while more than a third of the state was still in a moderate drought, or worse, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
While things are better, Alabama Power’s hydro experts will continue to monitor conditions and manage water resources carefully. Users of Alabama Power lakes also should stay aware of changing conditions on the lakes, and be prepared to take the necessary steps to protect their property.
For more information about Alabama Power lakes, add the free Alabama Power Shorelines app to your mobile device. To view specific lake advisories, click on the lake name and then click the circular information icon.