Coordinates 34°14′14″N 83°56′10″W
Lake type reservoir, from 1956
Primary inflows Chattahoochee River, Chestatee River
Primary outflows Chattahoochee River
Catchment area 1,040 sq mi (2,700 km2)
Basin countries United States
Surface area 37,000 acres (150 km2)
Max. depth 156 feet (48 m)
Water volume 1,049,400 acre·ft (1.2944 km3)
Surface elevation 1,071 ft (326.4 m) summer
1,070 ft (326.1 m) winter
Lake Lanier (officially Lake Sidney Lanier) is a reservoir in the northern portion of the U.S. state of Georgia. It was created by the completion of Buford Dam on the Chattahoochee River in 1956, and is also fed by the waters of the Chestatee River. The lake encompasses 38,000 acres (150 km2) of water, and 692 miles (1,114 km) of shoreline at normal level, a “full summer pool” of 1,071 feet (326 m) above mean sea level. It was named for poet Sidney Lanier, and was built and is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It is patrolled by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GDNR).
The lake is in Hall, Forsyth, Dawson, Gwinnett, and Lumpkin counties, split about 60%, 30%, 5%, 4%, and 1% respectively, filling the valley into numerous small arms and fingers. The former thalweg of the Chestatee and the Chattahoochee south of it form the county line between Hall and a tiny corner of Gwinnett to the east, and Dawson and Forsyth to the west.
One of the main purposes of the lake is flood control downstream of the lake, mainly protecting metro Atlanta. There have only been two major flooding events on the downstream section since the construction of Buford Dam. The most recent flooding event was in 2009.
The lake’s original and authorized purposes were to provide hydroelectricity and flood control. Since Lake Lanier’s construction, metro Atlanta has been taking water from the reservoir to use for municipal drinking water, which was authorized by Congress as an incidental use secondary to hydroelectricity.
The $1 billion project was approved, ground breaking was in 1950 and more than $2 million had been spent by the Corps on preliminary construction when the House Committee on Appropriations refused to provide more funds in June 1951. During that summer Atlanta mayor William Hartsfield traveled to Washington numerous times pressing Senators Richard Russell, Jr. and Walter F. George to restore funding to ensure Atlanta’s water supply during droughts.  Hartsfield was back in Washington in 1955 for $11 million more for the dam, which had a target date of 1956, again stressing the importance of an adequate water supply for the city. Again, funds were forthcoming and the dam opened on schedule.
Lake Lanier began filling in 1956, and in 1957, 20 miles downstream, Morgan Falls Dam was raised to regulate the flow from Buford Dam to give Atlanta water during the hours it was needed most.  The foresight of the entire project was confirmed in early fall of 1958 during two solid months of drought which would have left the Chattahoochee and its tributaries nearly dry, if not for the Buford Dam. 
Since the 1990s, the Corps of Engineers, Florida, Georgia, and Alabama have all been fighting for use of the water held in Lake Lanier. Federal law mandates that when a river flows between two or more states, each state has a right to an equal share of the water. Additionally, other laws such as the Endangered Species Act require that water be available for threatened or endangered species that live in or around Chattahoochee River and Apalachicola Bay.
Buford Dam, impounding Lake Lanier on the Chattahoochee River in Forsyth County, Georgia
In June 2006, the USACE revealed that the new lake gauge at the dam, replaced in December 2005, was not properly calibrated, yielding a lake level reading nearly two feet (over half a meter) higher than the actual level. Because of this, nearly twenty-two billion U.S gallons (over eighty-two billion liters) of excess water was released over and above the already planned excess releases to support both the successful spawning of gulf sturgeon in the Apalachicola River and to protect several species of mussels in Apalachicola Bay from excessive saltwater intrusion.
Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue said that the Corps had created a “manmade drought”, because most of the state is already experiencing dry conditions. This came at a time when outdoor water-use restrictions were already being put in place by local governments, because of enormous water use on the many lawns which have replaced the forests in newer suburban areas. Mainly because of this incident at the lake, the state then declared a drought and enacted a ban on outdoor water use from 10AM to 4PM, in addition to the permanent weekly odd/even address system. Other local counties have imposed further restrictions or even total bans, based on each water system’s conditions. Outdoor watering has since been banned completely as the state has fallen under the worst drought in its recorded history.
On October 16, 2007, Governor Perdue gave the USACE until the evening of October 17 to come up with a plan for the continued release of water for Florida wildlife. Senator Johnny Isakson stood before the Georgia General Assembly saying, “The health, safety and welfare of people are threatened. They are threatened by an act this Congress passed that had no intention to threaten them.” He eventually withdrew his threat to sue the Corps of Engineers, but the Lake Lanier Association indicated that it will attempt a private legal action. Governor Perdue’s attempts to reach an agreement with Florida over water releases fell through, leaving a final decision on releases from the lake in the hands of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
On November 22, 2007 the water level was at 1,052.34 feet (320.75 m), setting a new record low (see below: Lake water levels & External links). The previous low was 1,052.7 ft (320.9 m), set in December 1981 . The water level as of November 28, 2007 had dropped below the newly set record to 1,051.98 feet (320.64 m) and still decreasing at 0.05 ft (15 mm) a day. One month later, the water level stabilized around a final low of 1,050.79 ft (320.28 m), recorded December 26, 2007 at Buford Dam, with the level rising or falling daily by about 0.03 ft (9.1 mm), although a foot lower than November levels. The day after Christmas, the water level began rising from week to week.
Eventually, on February 18, 2008, the water level of Lake Lanier rose back, above the record-low levels set in November, rising to 1,052.80 ft (320.89 m), even higher than the December 1981 level of 1,052.7 ft (320.9 m), effectively ending the record-low phase of the drought crisis.
A similar drought situation also occurred in late 2008. At the end of the year, the water level stabilized around a final low of 1,051.00 ft (320.34 m), recorded December 8, 2008 at Buford Dam. That level was only slightly above the 2007 low of 1,050.79 ft (320.28 m) from December 26, 2007.
However, after rainfall during the winter of 2008-2009, on March 30, 2009, the climatologist of the state of Georgia, David Stooksbury, declared the drought over,  noting, “soil moisture is near normal, stream flows are near normal. Small and medium-sized reservoirs are full.” Stooksbury continued by noting, “There is still the 500-pound gorilla sitting in the room and that’s Lanier.” In May 2009, the water level of Lake Lanier rose to exceed 1066 ft, reaching a high of 1,066.71 ft (325.13 m) in mid-June 2009. Yet it did not reach the full summer pool of 1071 ft during mid-2009, remaining over 4 ft (1.2 m) lower. Regardless, the concerns about the health of the lake and Atlanta’s water supply were in full retreat. Due to weeks of heavy rains and flooding in North Georgia, Lake Lanier reached full pool in mid-October 2009. The record high is 1,077.2 feet (328.3 m) set in April 1964.
The record-low lake levels had revealed parts of the lake bottom not seen since the 1950s, when approximately 700 families were moved from the area to create the lake. An abandoned stretch of Georgia Highway 53 ran along one edge of new shoreline, and concrete foundations from homes and part of what was once the Gainesville’s Looper Speedway were uncovered. More recent additions to the lake – including discarded trash, boat batteries and even sunken boats – were discovered, and local efforts to clean up the lake bottom were organized. Several automobiles, some stolen, and discarded firearms were also recovered by law enforcement officials.
The Lake Lanier Olympic Center hosted the canoe sprint and rowing competitions for the 1996 Summer Olympics and also hosted the 2003 ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships. This picture was taken in 2010.
In July 2009, a federal judge from Minnesota (chosen as an arbiter from a neutral location) ruled that Congress never authorized Lake Lanier to be used as a source of the water supply for metro Atlanta. The state was given three years to stop withdrawing from the lake (except for the adjacent cities of Gainesville and Buford), unless Congress authorizes it, or the three states which use the basin come to an agreement. The Atlanta Regional Commission chairman noted that if enforced, cutting drinking water to 75% of the region would require disaster aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Lake Lanier at River Forks Park in Gainesville.
The lake is popular with boaters, houseboats, jetskiers and others, particularly around the summer holidays. Over 7.5 million people per year visit the lake, including its marinas and the Lake Lanier Islands waterpark. The rowing and sprint canoeing events during the 1996 Summer Olympics were held at the lake. It also hosted the canoe sprint World Championships in 2003 at the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club.
One resort hotel sits on the lake: Emerald Pointe. A second hotel, Pine Isle was recently demolished. Both were sold by CNL Hotels & Resorts, a hotel investment firm in Florida, to Georgia businessman Virgil Williams. Both assets sit on a ground lease from the Lake Lanier Islands Development Authority which in turn leases the land from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Established in 1957, Holiday Marina has become synonymous with Lake Lanier. Holiday Marina in Buford, Georgia, and Aqualand Marina near the town of Flowery Branch, are two of the largest freshwater marinas in the world.
Lake Lanier was the site of the 1997 Bilderberg conference.
Every year from mid-November through December, Lake Lanier Islands are decorated with over 6 miles (9.7 km) of holiday lights, one of the world’s largest light shows. Magical Nights of Lights is an animated drive-through display that ends with a Holiday village, carnival rides, bonfire, Santa Shop, live nativity, etc.
Lake water levels
Finish tower at Lake Lanier (2010), site of canoe sprint and rowing competitions in the 1996 Summer Olympics. It was also site of the 2003 ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships.
At the end of 2007, the water level of Lake Lanier became notable, on a daily basis, for setting record low levels, not seen in over 25 years. By early November, the water level was dropping a fifth of a foot (.06 m) per day (see table below), with the largest drop on November 9 of 0.26 ft (0.08 m) to 1054.08 ft (321.4 m).
The dropping water level slowed to 0.05 ft (0.02 m), as measured on November 17, 2007, after local rains continued and the water flow had been reduced at Buford Dam. However, water levels continued to decline almost daily during the month of December 2007 (see table below; December record low levels in bold-face font).
Further rains during November and December stabilized the water level at a low of 1,050.79 ft (320.3 m) on December 26, 2007, with the water level fluctuating up/down by about 0.03 ft (0.009 m) daily (see table at right). On December 27, the water level began rising above the record low level, but fluctuating every few days, as effected by further rain and snow during December and January 2008. By the end of December 2007, alone, the water level had risen over a half-foot (.3 m) to 1,051.32 ft (320.4 m), rising over 3 times faster than it had recently dropped, and reversing more than 18 days of losses within just 5 days (see table).
Finally, on February 18, 2008, the water level of Lake Lanier had risen back, above the record-low levels set in November, rising to 1,052.80 ft (320.89 m), even higher than the December 1981 level of 1,052.7 ft (320.9 m), effectively reversing and ending the record-low phase of the drought crisis. As of April 21, 2009, the lake had risen back to 1063.39 feet.
Multiple rain storms further to the south, along the Chattahoochee River to Apalachicola Bay, brought increased fresh water to the Florida wildlife in November and December 2007, despite the reduced water flow from Lake Lanier at Buford Dam. Rainfall along the Chattahoochee River was often greater than at Lake Lanier, spanning the much longer length of the river.
Metropolitan Atlanta received far above-average rainfall amounts throughout September and October 2009, and experienced record floods. On October 14th, 2009, Lake Lanier had risen back to above full pool at 1071.01 feet. The record high is 1,077.2 feet (328.3 m), set in April 1964.