Archived Story

Lake could see 3-foot increase

Published 8:00pm Friday, June 3, 2011

Higher winter pool for Lake Martin one of several changes proposed by Alabama Power Company on Friday

Alabama Power Company announced Friday a proposal to raise Lake Martin’s winter pool level by three feet and a conditional extension that will maintain a higher lake level in the fall.

The proposed changes will be included in the Martin Dam license application that Alabama Power will file next week with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). If the application is approved by FERC, the lake level changes will not begin until 2013 when the new license goes into effect.

The proposed rule curve changes have generated the most interest with local stakeholders – individuals, businesses and groups involved in the relicensing process – over the last four years.

Friday’s announcement was met with approval from many local stakeholders.

“From Lake Watch’s perspective, we are very satisfied with the three-foot increase,” Lake Watch Lake Martin president Dick Bronson said. “I cannot imagine many people (on the lake) being unhappy with this.”

Under current guidelines, Lake Martin’s winter pool is typically 481 feet mean sea level (msl) and the summer pool is 491 feet. Alabama Power begins lowering the lake level in early September and it reaches winter level by the beginning of January. The lake level begins rising again in mid-February and reaches summer pool by the end of April.

A number of stakeholders requested that Alabama Power consider changing the current rule curve in the new license. The proposed changes include raising the winter pool level in 1-foot increments from 481 to 486 feet msl, delaying the lake drawdown until Oct. 15 and beginning the spring fill by Jan. 15. The proposed changes resulted in 23 possible alternate scenarios, in addition to keeping the original rule curve.

Jim Crew, manager of hydro services for Alabama Power, said the final proposal was a compromise between the competing interests of the stakeholders.

“Everybody didn’t get exactly what they wanted,” he said. “You always try to find some middle ground.”

Charles Borden, president of Lake Martin Resource Association (LMRA), said in a statement that the organization was happy with the changes, although it also originally requested an earlier spring fill that was not included in the proposal.

“Even though LMRA did not receive all that we requested, we are generally pleased with the decisions of Alabama Power Co.,” he said. “More water in the winter and higher levels in the fall will generate a significant increase in the usefulness of the lake and will be a positive impact on the economy. This will allow for more boating in the fall and many lake residents will be able to get their boats in the water during winter months.”

However, not all stakeholders were happy with the proposal. Jesse Cunningham, president of Lake Martin Home Owners Boat Owners (HOBOs), said the organization, which asked for a five-foot winter pool increase, will appeal the decision to FERC.

“It’s disappointing to see that Alabama Power Company has taken few, if any, recommendations from local stakeholders as it applies to the winter pool,” he said. “We must evaluate the fall extension before making a comment.”

The decision is not expected to sit well with stakeholders who live downstream of Martin Dam, who have been vocal about their opposition to any lake level increase throughout the relicensing process.

Patrick Pinkston, an attorney for the Elmore County Commission, declined to comment on Friday. The Central Elmore Water and Sewer Authority could not be reached.

The decision may also anger local construction companies, some of which expressed concern about the economic impact a higher winter pool level would have on shoreline construction.

However, Crew said Alabama Power tried to address that issue in the proposal, which includes a 10-foot drawdown every six years. Crew said the drawdown, which would bring the lake down to its current winter pool level, would allow companies to work on shoreline construction as well as provide a “flushing effect” to rid the lake of built-up nutrients.

Crew said Alabama Power relied on its several years worth of environmental studies as well as stakeholder interests when deciding the changes. A study the energy company introduced in October 2010 provided a comparison of the 23 rule curve scenarios and helped narrow down the options for changes to the lake levels.

Crew said they were able to eliminate the spring fill option early in the process because the potential of downstream flooding was too high. They were able to eliminate the five-foot winter pool increase for the same reason.

“The one and two foot increase, we felt they didn’t provided enough of a recreational benefit,” Crew said. “To go to this much trouble and make a change, you really want to make sure you’re making a difference.”

They settled on the three-foot winter pool increase because it had less of an impact downstream.

“We really felt like it was a level and a decision we could defend to FERC,” Crew said. ‘Three is the most defensible decision for all interests.

One of the original stakeholder requests was to extend full pool in the fall from Sept. 1 to Oct. 15.

Crew said many factors had to be considered in the fall extension, including the fact that Alabama Power Company is required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide a minimum amount of water from Tallapoosa River and the Coosa River to the Alabama River. Changes to the lake level have to meet minimum flows to the Alabama River and not at the expense of other dam operations on the Coosa or Tallapoosa rivers.

The fall extension was included as a conditional proposal that will be met when sufficient water is available. The fall extension is based on four criteria that will be evaluated every September. When Alabama Power applied the four criteria to 67 years of historical data, Crew said the fall extension was met about 25 percent of the time.

The proposal also includes an adaptive management clause that will allow Alabama Power to re-examine and make changes to the lake level changes if they are found to have unexpected negative consequences.

Alabama Power will file its final license application with FERC on June 7. The company will also send a DVD of the proposed license to stakeholders next week.

Crew said FERC will review the application, typically for one to three months, to determine if it’s suitable for filing.

Once that has happened, FERC will send the proposed license to stakeholders and open it up for comments and appeals.

The new license will take effect in June 2013 and will be in effect for 30-50 years.