Lake levels near full for first time in years

News 12 First at Five / Wednesday, May 1, 2013

APPLING, Ga. (WRDW) -- For the first time in almost two years, lake levels are near full pool. For the people on the lake, more water means everything.

When Strom Thurmond Lake is full, the surface of the lake is 330 feet above sea level. Right now, the lake is at 325.3 feet. That's only about 4 and a half feet away from being full, and for many, that's a reason to celebrate.

"I'm extremely ecstatic. It's as high as it's been in a long time and just ready for the sun to start shining," said bait and tackle shop worker Bradd Sasser.

It's been a tough two years at Strom Thurmond Lake.

Sasser, who works at the Herring Hut, says even though the bait and tackle shop isn't on the water, that's the very resource he depends on to keep his business alive.

"Just being a small family store, it doesn't survive without people going fishing. With the lake level as low as it was, it was a long tough winter," he said.

Luckily for Sasser, the dry spell has ended, and what looked empty for the past two years finally looks like a lake again.

"We have water in the lake. We are really excited about the prospects of this summer. The lake has come up almost 11 feet over the winter," said Park Ranger Jay Weidman with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Just a few short weeks ago, most of the beaches along the lake were sitting high and dry. Now, there's water to complement the sand, and park rangers say if the weather cooperates, these levels should keep rising.

"It is bittersweet to see that rain on the weekend, but again, we pray for rain every day," Travis Hayes said.

Hayes owns a boat service and rental company on the lake.

"Our business is highly dependent on having a nice, functioning, pretty lake up here, and when it's full, people want to come up here and hang out," Hayes said.

With previous middle-of-the-lake islands now underwater, people are already starting to flock.

"We're already seeing a big uptick in boating. The fishermen have far fewer things to be aware of hitting or damaging their boat with the lake up 11 feet," Weidman said.

"Sun starts shining and lake levels up, should have a wonderful, wonderful summer," Sasser said.

Higher lake levels are great for recreation and home values on the lake, but the positive effect ripples out in the community, too.

A Clemson study estimates that for every foot increase in lake levels, production of goods and services in Columbia County increases about $12.3 million per month.

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