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Strengthening the Banks of Lake Lanier

A small rock on an island tumbles into the water, taking a few particulates of soil with it. It seems harmless. But over time, that island begins losing surface area one rock and one inch at a time. Nothing is done until the island that was once there, vanishes in the night. Long-term residents of Lake Lanier, Georgia, are all too familiar with this; witnessing islands completely erode and submerge under the waters of the Chattahoochee River.

The Lake Lanier Association — an organization dedicated to protection of Lake Lanier and surrounding areas — was not going to let that happen on their watch.

The Need

At the heart of the matter in Lake Lanier was a twofold issue — the 38,000-acre lake provides drinking water for over 4.5 million in the greater Atlanta area, and over 8 million people come annually to recreate around the lake. It is a crucial reservoir, and one that has lost 12 percent surface area over the past 25 years.

“There are literally millions of people affected by the eroding islands and there is a tremendous recreational colony that is associated with the lake,” says Joanna Cloud, executive director at the Lake Lanier Association. “Keeping it clean, full and safe is so important not only for drinking water purposes, but for economic purposes in the Metro Atlanta region.”

The Plan

The effort began back in 2014. The Bagwell Foundation took matters into their own hands by paying for a pilot project to treat Three Sisters Island, saving it from its own seemingly inevitable fate.

The Three Sisters project required laying 1,000 tons of stone along 600 feet of shoreline. This will keep the island from washing away for years to come by protecting the island’s shorelines.

The next step: growing public awareness and funding to perform the same work on four additional islands.

With carefully prepared notes of the pilot program, the Lake Lanier Association went on a full out public relations campaign, lining up media to educate and raise awareness on the matter.

The PR campaign proved effective with $275,000 secured in funding for the riprap project. The dollars went even further with local vendors like Sunbelt Rentals in Cumming, Georgia, providing good rates on equipment like their Takeuchi TB153 excavator.

The Scope

The project timeline to finish riprap on all four of the islands was December 2016 to March 2017. The job required laying over 6,500 tons of stone to line over 3,000 feet of shoreline on the islands of Browns Bridge, Aqualand, Six Mile and Van Pugh.

With over 25 years of erosion control experience, Marine Specialties of Gainesville, Georgia, was contracted to handle the riprap around the islands. Installation of riprap protects shoreline for years and absorbs water and wave energy instead of deflecting it back outward.

The Work

Running three barges on the lake, Marine Specialties went around to the banks scraping a 2-to-1 slope before laying down geotextile fabric and large shoreline type three granite rocks. Takeuchi equipment was a vital tool throughout the project with five machines onsite — three TL140 track loaders, as well as TB153 and TB260 excavators.

“The Takeuchi machines really performed strong – they are just so easy and smooth to operate,” says David Bahn, sales manager for the riprap and shoreline step division at Marine Specialties. “We have always had great luck with them and overall they are the best performance machines we have used.”

They finished the riprap project in early March with no hiccups to account for along the way.

“Our company has been in the riprap business for a long time, so we are efficient,” says Bahn. “From the equipment to the job itself, there were no big challenges whatsoever. I’ve always believed that if you come to the job well equipped and take good care of the machines in your lineup, you should not run into any issues.”

The Future

Five islands are now completed, but Cloud would like to see the work around Lake Lanier continue.

“Anything we can do to help maintain the integrity of the reservoir is very important work to do — the problem is it is a pretty big ticket to help protect the islands,” says Cloud. “There is more work to do — some of these islands have 20-foot high cliffs that have completely eroded.”

According to Cloud, Metro Atlanta does not have many plans for further fresh water resources. “Our population projection for this area is astonishing. Over the next 30 years, it is really scary that we have this one reservoir in Lake Lanier that we are supplying all of these people with.”

For now, the Lake Lanier Association will continue to push for additional funding on the other islands and stay in front of the cameras for ongoing awareness.

Cloud agrees it is a good start. But, plenty of work remains for a reservoir that is vital to millions of people in the area.

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