Officials urge caution following close call on Etowah
by Matt Shinall
May 01, 2013 | 2539 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
An incident on the Etowah River Monday led to a rescue by the Bartow County Fire Department and the shutdown of power generation at Allatoona Dam so that two individuals could escape from the rapidly rising water.

The typically calm water below Allatoona Dam rises quickly during times of power generation. This caught a couple enjoying Monday’s warm weather by surprise and unable to easily reach the shoreline in the rushing water, which just moments before was calm and shallow.

Officials caution those that use the river for recreational pursuits to do so with safety in mind and not to ignore the warnings. Signs are posted at Riverside and Cooper’s Furnace Day Use Areas on either side of the river below the dam, a recorded message is reachable by phone for generation schedules and a siren is sounded before generation begins.

“This is a reminder that the season is here. As these warmer temperatures arrive, we have a very big recreational area with the lake and the river, and as those are utilized, the risk for misadventures definitely increases,” said Bartow County Fire Chief Craig Millsap. “We always urge everyone to be vigilant and pay attention to water conditions before things get bad. The call we had [Monday] ended up not being anything to it, but we had a similar situation a few years back that did cost the life of a young boy. When they waded out to the sandbar, the river was fine but as it came up with generation it was impassable and he got swept away. That’s still fresh in my mind as a rough call that we’ve worked in public safety because every time you lose a life like that it sticks with you. We just urge everyone to use caution and common sense.”

Chief Ranger of Recreation for the Allatoona Lake Corps of Engineers Linda Hartsfield urges anyone cooling off in the river to call the generation schedule line. A recorded message updated daily and even during the day if changes in demand arise can be heard at 706-334-7213.

“Always plan to call that number. It is a recorded generation schedule, which is updated daily and continues to be updated if the need changes during the day. The alarm, a horn, starts blowing five minutes prior to the start of generation and it blows for two minutes. That is the warning for you to get out of the river because water will begin to rise,” Hartsfield said. “Our powerhouse is remotely controlled from Carter’s Lake. The Carter’s Lake control room controls Carter’s, Lanier and Allatoona, so all the operators are there, there are no operators here.

“[Monday] we had to make calls to Carter’s control room and tell them to switch it off. So, it’s not going to be instantaneous, and once they do cease operation, there will still be some flow that comes out of there. So pay attention to the warning signs and the horn, it’s posted at the gatehouse when you come in, but some people just try to out smart the system. Thankfully, yesterday turned out okay and hopefully those people will learn and pass it on to others — that’s what I hope. It was a situation that could have been horrible, but thankfully we had good responders out there and it worked out. Fortunately we haven’t had that in a while.”

Hartsfield warns that even those who think they are accustomed to the river’s changes during generation should take all safety precautions because the level at which conditions are altered depends on how much electrical demand is on the system and how much Allatoona is able to generate. These factors vary greatly depending on the water level of the lake and river conditions downstream in Rome. So, even if generation did not affect sporting activities once, does not mean that water levels and current will be safe the next time generation occurs. The effects also can reach far downstream from the dam. Hartsfield advises that conditions may take an hour to change at the Ladd’s boat launch and two hours in Euharlee, but be aware of conditions no matter the location.

“The closer to the dam you are, the more rapid the conditions will deteriorate,” Millsap said. “But people can call the number and get the generation schedule. I urge them to call every morning if they’re going to be on the river because things are always subject to change. Pay close attention and don’t overestimate what your capabilities are.

“Our river is being more and more utilized for recreation. We are seeing more kayakers and canoers taking advantage of the river in our area. It’s becoming more of an attraction because it is beautiful and it’s fairly easy when it comes to rapids and things like that, but the fact that we have a dam that generates causes an extra level of risk and those water conditions will change in a hurry.”

For more information, call the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Allatoona Lake Office during business hours at 678-721-6700 or call 706-334-7213 any time for an up-to-date generation schedule.