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Last updated 11:45PM ET
April 18, 2021
Withheld Water in Georgia Affecting Alabama
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - Officials in Centre on the Coosa River in northeast Alabama are searching for funding to buy an emergency pump so they can continue to draw water from Weiss Lake as a lingering drought dries up the city's only source of drinking water.

The city is down river from Allatoona Lake in Georgia where Alabama Gov. Bob Riley has protested the Corps of Engineers' decision to reduce the flow.

Centre Mayor Phil Powell says his city doesn't have a drop of water to spare. Officials in other water systems along the Coosa say they are still able to draw water, but are closely watching water levels.

"This is the worst situation we've had since I've been mayor," said Powell, who has been mayor for 11 years.

Weiss Lake is usually known as a fisherman's paradise, partly because of it's abundant supply of crappie, but Powell said the drought has left docks and some boat launches on dry land.

"We're known as the crappie capital of the world. The fish are still here, but people can't get their boats in the water to fish," Powell said.

Riley said Friday he is concerned about the drinking water supply in Centre and other cities and communities along the Coosa and other river systems suffering the effects of a yearlong drought. Alexander City on the Tallapoosa River began taking emergency measures last week to make sure it can continue to pump water out of Lake Martin.

Riley said the threat to drinking water systems was one of the reasons he wrote a letter to the U.S. Corps of Engineers earlier this week opposing the reduction of flow from the lake. The Corps is opposing plans by Alabama Power Co. to cut back releases from its dam. Alabama Power officials say the reduction is needed to keep the lake levels from dropping further. Levels on most lakes on the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers are already at record lows for this time of year.

"We realize many of these water systems are in jeopardy," Riley said Friday. He said he supports the power company's decision to hold back water in the lakes it controls in Alabama.

"They can't continue to reduce our reservoirs and not reduce the reservoir in Georgia," Riley said.

Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Lisa Coghlan declined to comment on Riley's criticism, but said Corps officials will be meeting next week with Alabama Power representatives to discuss the flow of water from the power company's dams.

Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman said company officials are willing to discuss the issue with the Corps.

"But we are at the point we have to take steps to protect the integrity of our lakes and the integrity of these water systems," Sznajderman said. He said the flow reductions would begin Monday.

In Centre, a city of about 4,000 near the Georgia line about 90 miles northeast of Birmingham, water board chairman Harold Day said the lake level is currently below 558 feet above sea level. He said that's below the level the lake is normally lowered to in winter months.

He said weather forecasts call for little rain in coming weeks and that if the level drops another 4 feet, the lake will be below the level necessary for intake pipes to draw the water from the river. He said officials are planning to buy an emergency pump and use a boat or a barge to pump water from a deeper section of the lake.

"For a small town this is expensive," Day said. He said he's worried about the flow of water being cut from Allatoona Lake.

"When the water gets cut off from up above that's going to cut off the flow here," Day said.

He said because the water levels are low, the system is having to pump more than usual from the lake to be able to purify the water.

"When the water is this low, there are more impurities in the water," Day said.

Officials at other water systems that get their drinking water from Coosa River lakes said they are watching water levels, but so far have not had to take emergency measures.

Clanton Mayor Billy Joe Driver said his city's water system pumped for as much as 19 hours a day from Lake Mitchell during the summer months to keep up with the demand for water, particularly from farmers wanting to irrigate crops. He said water levels are down in Lake Mitchell, but that the intake system is in a deep section of the reservoir and so far is not threatened.

In Shelby County, the superintendent of the county water system, Charles Lay, said Lay Lake on the Coosa is the system's only water source. He said county officials are keeping a close watch on water levels, but so far the county's system is not threatened.

The Five Star Water Supply District in Elmore County gets its drinking water from Lake Jordan on the Coosa. The system's manager, David Potham, said the lake level is down about two feet, but so far the system continues to be able to draw water from both of its intake systems.

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