Sept. 24, 2007

Dried-out Weiss Lake hurting local businesses

By Dawn Treglown

CEDAR BLUFF — With Weiss Lake water levels drastically below full summer pool, it's no wonder the local economy is suffering during one of the worst droughts on record.

Army Corps of Engineers officials are seriously considering reducing the flow of water from Georgia's Lake Allatoona -- which feeds the Coosa River -- even though Weiss is nearly seven feet below full summer pool (564 ft. above sea level). That's almost a foot below winter pool (558 ft. above sea level).

Rain from tropical storm Humberto raised the water level by a few inches, but it was not enough to improve conditions that affect the local economy, which is tied so tightly to the lake and surrounding waterways.

“There's no boat traffic out there,” said Alabama Marine Police officer Rick Sides. “I've done this job for 13 years, and this is the worst I've ever seen it.”

Sides' duties include patrolling Weiss Lake, checking safety equipment on boats in the lake and verifying that boaters have proper operator and fishing licenses. He's also found himself helping more stranded boaters than normal this summer.

“I've had to pull several boats off of sandbars lately a lot more than normal,” he said.

Lower levels also mean there are fewer boat launches available for launching watercraft into the lake.

“Last week, I patrolled between Cedar Bluff and the Georgia state line,” Sides said. “I counted only nine boats all together, all day.”

Donny Muse, owner of Riverside Campground in Cedar Bluff, said the lower lake level is definitely hurting his business. He manages a boat launch on the lake and charges $2 per launch.

“We usually see 20 to 30 boats a day going into the water here,” Muse said. “We're lucky to see two boats a day right now.”

He also said many of the lots on the campground are currently up for sale. “I'm losing business like crazy,” he said.

Although his boat launch is still in operation, he said that wouldn't be the case if the lake level drops more than another foot more. “Somebody needs to close the gates for a while.”

B.J. Culberson, who manages Weiss Mart Marina in Cedar Bluff, agreed that the lower lake levels are hurting the local economy.

“It's definitely affecting us,” Culberson said. “We've had to cut back on help, too.”
Although he usually employs six people this time of year, he's operating the business with three employees right now.

He said one of the boat launches at his businesses has been extended and is currently in use, although that may change as water levels drop even lower. Culberson added that people just aren't taking the boats out on the water as much, either.

“We usually have about 125 boats here on the weekend. They're just not coming right now,” he said.

He also said future fishing could be affected if the fish spawn in deep channels and then the water is brought back up.

“We'll see a lot of dead fish,” Culberson said.

Martha Clifton, owner of the Country Store, said sales are hurting at her convenience store thanks to the low lake level.

“On Labor Day, we did half of what we usually do. Sales have been way down,” she said.

Clifton added that she doesn't expect things to get better until next year unless the area is suddenly blessed with plenty of rain.

Kathy Alexander, who usually fishes near a dock on Hwy. 9 in Cedar Bluff, said she and her husband recently took a stroll out onto an area of the lake that is usually under water.

“We reached down and pulled an old horseshoe out of the dirt,” she said. “It makes you wonder what was here and what's going to happen now.”

While few people seem able to envision an end to the drought and its devastating effects right now, one marina owner is more optimistic.

Jason Tucker, owner of J.R.'s Marina on County Road 102, said he's expecting plenty of business within a few weeks.

“If the level drops below seven feet (below full summer pool), we'll be closed down for about two or three days, then we'll be open for business again,” he said.
Tucker explained that he has already acquired permits to extend the marina's boat launch.

“We expect to be wide open again pretty soon,” he said. “Everybody can still pray for rain, though.”

Sides said he hopes the diehard lake lovers who insist on venturing into the shallow waters of Weiss Lake will use extra care and take all the necessary precautions.

“There's a lot of stuff out there just one or two feet below the surface,” he said. “People need to be careful and wear life jackets.”

For the latest on lake levels and Alabama Power’s efforts to manage through the drought, visit and click on "drought." Information can also be obtained by calling Alabama Power's automated Reservoir Information System at 1-800-LAKES11 (1-800-525-3711).