AP photo by Dave Martin|
Workers tow a pipe and prepare a small floating barge fitted with submersible pumps in Alexander City on Friday. The city is having the pumping systems moved into deeper water of Lake Martin as a historic drought continues across the Southeast.
Alexander City moves pumps into deeper water
By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer
ALEXANDER CITY — The severity of the yearlong drought and the struggle over water between Alabama and Georgia was evident Friday on the dried banks of Lake Martin, where workers floated powerful pumps into the middle of the lake to reach water deep enough to pump into the faucets of up to 60,000 people.
Mayor Barbara Young, who is 76, said she never thought it would be necessary to take such drastic measures to supply drinking water to a city that is known for the lake, which is dotted with handsome homes and a pristine, wooded shoreline.
But layers of cracked dirt now circle the lake, and many docks and piers stand on dry ground, the water too shallow for boats to launch from many landings.
Young watched as four 1,500-pound pumps were floated on small barges into the lake, which serves as the only source of drinking water for people in Tallapoosa, Coosa and Elmore counties.
"We've got it so good here. I guess we just thought it would just go on and on," she said.
The emergency system was made necessary when water levels on Lake Martin dropped below intake points due to the drought, which has been punctuated by a war of words between the governors of Georgia and Alabama over the release of water in river systems shared by both states.
Young said she was surprised by recent remarks from Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue that those pushing for further release of water from Georgia reservoirs were trying to protect aquatic wildlife.
"It didn't hurt my feelings. But these people here are not mollusks," said Young, a retired teacher and principal. "We've got 60,000 people who depend on this water. This is not about recreation or boats or mollusks. It's about drinking water."
Johnny Payne, 60, a member of the Tallapoosa County Rescue Squad, said he has been around the lake most of his life and doesn't remember seeing it so depleted. "The good Lord just hasn't supplied us with any rain," he said.
Trey Doyle of Hydra Service Inc., which provided the pumps, said Friday they were being connected to the city's intake system by 200 feet of flexible floating pipe that was stretched out into the lake. He said the system can be adjusted if the lake level continues to drop.
"It just depends on how low the lake goes," Doyle said.
He said his company had provided pumps for many purposes over the years, but not to save a city's drinking water supply.
"To be pumping to get cities water because the lakes are low, I've never heard of that," Doyle said.
Standing on the shore of the lake, city workers had to look up to see the lines on the city's intake building marking the normal water levels high above their heads.
Rains this week helped cool off much of Alabama as parts of southwest Alabama got as much as 4 inches of rain, weather service records show. But precipitation was lighter in north and East Alabama, which have been particularly hard hit during the drought and received 2 inches of rain or less during the same period.
The water level at Lake Martin Friday was 475.8 feet above sea level, about 14 feet below its normal summertime level and almost 5 feet below the usual winter level. Alabama Power Co. officials said the reservoir is expected to drop another foot by Halloween.
Young said the system being installed Friday would cost about $550,000 — a major financial hit for a city with about 15,000 residents. She said the city has applied for federal grants to help pay for the project.
City Councilman Richard Langford said city officials have been monitoring the lake for about two months.
"I was certainly praying and hoping we wouldn't have to do this. But it looks just the way we drew it up," Langford said.
City officials said they hope the new pumps will be in operation by Monday.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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