Lake 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 or 59 square miles of water, and 692 miles of shoreline at normal level, a "full summer pool" of 1,071 feet above mean sea level. Named for American poet Sidney Lanier, it was built and is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for flood control, water supplies, and power production.
The states of Georgia, Alabama and Florida all have rights to the water of the reservoir, as it feeds rivers going through those areas. The Corps of Engineers has responsibilities to regulate flow for flood control and water use. In addition, it has to ensure that water is available to fulfill such federal mandates as under the Endangered Species Act, to support downstream species. The rapid suburbanization of the Atlanta region, in particular, has greatly increased water consumption by private homeowners for lawns and gardens. During droughts of the 21st century, Lake Lanier reached record lows, and regional actions have been needed to reduce area water usage.
Buford Dam was more than just a political achievement. Technological advances had been made since the first dam built in 1902 just outside of Gainesville, Georgia and ironically covered by the completion of the new lake. Although the powerhouse would still need to tie to rock walls, engineers were confident that the river could be stopped with a series of "saddlebacks," dams created from gravel and dirt.
First, a channel was blasted and the powerhouse constructed. Then the Chattahoochee was diverted through the open gates of the powerhouse and the newly created channel while the saddlebacks were built. Once completed the saddlebacks were allowed to sit in place. Finally, on February 1, 1956 the powerhouse gates were closed and Lake Lanier began the slow process of filling. In 1957 the first power was generated and in May, 1959 the lake reached its full level for the first time.