Litter builds up in West Point Lake following heavy rainfall

Published 7:20 pm Wednesday, January 2, 2019

By Wayne Clark
Valley Times-News

WEST POINT — Recent rainy weather in the two-state area has caused much localized flooding on streams north of West Point Lake. 

As the Chattahoochee River and the many tributaries flowing into the river get out of their banks, a lot of debris gets washed into the main river channel and flows into the lake. 

Some of this unsightly debris is settling into the lake’s many bays and sloughs. 

An example of this phenomenon can be seen from the road that runs across West Point Dam. A huge pile of logs, limbs, empty water bottles, Styrofoam cups and other trash has gathered at the big yellow buoy line behind the dam.

“This happens a lot when we have periods of heavy rain,” David Barr of the West Point Project management office said. “We’ll have a contractor clean up some of these areas, especially those near public use areas. We’ll definitely be cleaning up around boat ramps.”

David Scott of the Project Management office said there’s more debris than usual on the southern end of the lake because of the constant water releases that have been going on in recent days. 

“That creates a strong current in the river channel,” he said. “That brings more debris farther south.”

West Point Lake being at or near its winter storage pool of 625 feet above sea level likely spared downtown West Point from a flood. According to Barr, the lake crested at 634.5 feet on New Year’s Day. At its high point, an estimated 50,000 cubic feet of water per second was approaching the dam, which was releasing as much as 38,000 cubic feet per second. Because the lake was down, there was ample storage capacity for the lake’s water level to rise. Even so, it has yet to equal the summer storage figure of 635 feet. At one point, the lake rose six-and-a-half feet in two days.

“That’s why we need a lower lake level this time of year,” Barr said. “Engineers in the Corps office in Mobile study this every day. They tell us the potential for flooding is worse farther downstream. They’ve had as much as 55,000 cubic feet per second at Walter F. George (at Lake Eufaula).”

Barr cautions boaters to be aware of the excessive debris in the water. 

“Lots of debris is still floating,” Barr said. “Boaters need to proceed with caution when on the lake.”

Scott said periods of heavy rain upstream of West Point has a way of cleaning out ditches and washing all kinds of material into the river channel. 

“We see strange stuff all the time and wonder how it ever got here,” Barr said.

The massive pile of debris behind the buoy line will likely remain there as long as the water releases are taking place. Once things return to normal, it will likely be blown to shore by the wind. If it lands at Shaefer Heard Park, the most popular camping destination on the lake, there will likely be a massive clean-up. It if goes farther upstream to isolated areas of the lake at Maple or Bird Creek, such an effort won’t take place.

In its 43-year history, West Point Dam has no doubt spared West Point and the Valley from many floods. From 1900 to 1975, West Point sustained an average of one flood per year in the downtown area. Since West Point Dam went into operation in 1975, there’s been only one flood. That occurred in May 2003 when the lake was at its summer pool level when an extremely rare weather event happened north of West Point. As much as 12 inches of rain fell throughout the Chattahoochee basin north of the lake in a 12-hour period. There was no storage capacity to hold back the massive amount of water that came downstream after that.