Park ranger gives update on West Point Lake

Published 6:00 am Saturday, March 23, 2019

VALLEY — This is a busy time of year for the West Point Lake Project Management Office. In recent weeks, park rangers and project contractors have been dealing with shoreline debris removal caused by winter flooding. There’s a good deal of prescribed burning taking place on the project lands, and preparations are being made for the opening of the 2019 spring and summer season at the West Point Lake campgrounds.

David Scott, a ranger for the project office, was the guest speaker for Monday’s meeting of the Valley Lions Club and talked about what’s been going on recently at the lake. Scott’s work with the project management office pre-dates his college graduation.

That was in 2003, the one time there’s been a significant flood since West Point Dam has been in operation. It happened in early May On one of his first days at the office, an elderly lady came by to ask about snakes that had been crawling up in her yard. She lived close to the lake and was wondering if they were dangerous.

“She had one of them in a big container,” Scott said. “I opened it up, and yes, it was a dangerous one, a big cottonmouth. I didn’t ask her how she caught it, but I did tell her it was dangerous and that she should be very careful around them.

“We were fortunate with this year’s flooding,” he went on. “Most of the rain was north of us. West Point Lake is the catch pan for all the ditches that get washed out between here and north of Atlanta. There’s a tremendous number of tennis balls that find their way here. We’re also finding Bugs Bunny basketballs that get lost from Six Flags Over Georgia.”

Scott said there’s not enough time, money or equipment to keep the shoreline as clear from debris as the rangers would like.

“Our operating budget does set aside some money for cleanups,” he said. “We did clean up one cove at Horace King Park. It was an area around one acre in size that was two to three feet deep with logs and all kinds of trash. A subcontractor cleaned it up and burned it for us. It cost over $12,000 to do that. We’d love to clean up all the coves, but it’s just unreasonable to attempt that with the money we have for it.”

Volunteer help from the public is a big plus in shoreline cleanups. National Park Lands Day is celebrated every September and volunteers are there to pick up litter and debris at designated sites.

“We offer free camping to anyone who helps us,” Scott said.

With 26,000 acres of water surface area, West Point Lake is not as big as Lake Martin, but is much bigger than Lake Harding. Something West Point has that some of the bigger lakes don’t is abundant public land surrounding the water. The West Point Project has an estimated 30,000 acres immediately surrounding the lake.

“We have four Class A campgrounds,” Scott said. “There are 370 camp sites with water and 50 amp electrical hookups. In the summer months these campgrounds are full.”

West Point Dam has a very good record of protecting downstream areas from flooding. Records show that downtown West Point received an average of one flood per year from 1900 through 1975, the year the dam went into operation.

The 2003 flood is the only time that’s happened since 1975 and that was due to an extremely unusual weather event. Areas north of West Point and within the Chattahoochee River basin got up to 12 inches of rain in one night. West Point Lake was at its summer level of 635 feet above sea level when this occurred. There was only four feet of storage capacity.

“It can’t get above 639 (feet),” Scott said. “If it does, we have to let it go.”

On that day back in 2003, there was 80,000 cubic feet of water arriving at the dam. This much water will put three feet of water on West 3rd Avenue.

By contrast, the highest point back in January was 40,000 cubic feet, which is very manageable.

“We have a water management team at our Mobile office that goes strictly by the book on this, and they are very good at what they do,” Scott said. “They manage the river from Lake Lanier in north Georgia to the Gulf Coast.”