Low lake levels mean trouble for boaters

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September 1, 2006

Heading to the lake is a Labor Day tradition for many...but low levels can mean trouble for boaters.

Lake Thurmond holds hundreds of billions of gallons of water, but right now, it's only about 60 percent full.

All the recent rain in our area hasn't done the lake a lot of good. The lake has lost about 10 feet of water. The docks at Wildwood Park are unusable, which could be a problem for boaters this holiday weekend.

Now, hundreds of Wildwood Park boaters like Jay Wilhelm have to share one ramp.

"In the last few months it's drastically dropped, so you can't even use the new super ramps over here," Jay told News 12.

Capt. David Dickenson with Martinez-Columbia Dive and Rescue says most boats need about 10 feet of clean water.

That sounds simple enough. Normally, Lake Thurmond averages 50 feet of water. But in many places, the lake has dropped to 20 feet...and underwater plants and trees that also reach 20 feet can damage boats.

"There's obviously a hazard they aren't aware of," Capt. Dickenson says. "They could obviously ground their boat, or if they're pulling a skier, possibly injure a person."

Most depth meters don't work at full speed, which makes it hard to avoid underwater dangers.

"This area is not marked that there are any hazards, but there's one right here and it's next to a popular ramp and beach area," Capt. Dickenson pointed out.

"There's a lot of stumps and areas that have sandbars," Jay said. "If you don't know the area, it could tear the boat up and you could get hurt."

Jay says between the dangers and the one usable dock, being patient and perceptive is the key to a fun Labor Day weekend.

There are one-foot underwater islands all over Lake Thurmond. Now, many of them are above water.

Boaters this weekend are advised to take it slow and be on the lookout for the shallow areas.

Water evaporates at 750 cubic feet per second on a sunny day. Experts say if we don't get some steady, heavy rain, the levels will continue to drop.