Man-made geology provided conditions for large and small rivers and streams but not for lakes. The natural water bodies that occur in Georgia are primarily located in the southern part of the state in the Coastal Plain, where sinkhole lakes and isolated wetlands in natural shallow depressions largely fed by rain and shallow groundwater, called Carolina bays, form. Hence, the majority of lakes in Georgia that are now enjoyed for recreational, industrial, municipal, and federal government uses are man-made.
These irrigation, recreation, or aesthetic purposes. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) survey of water impoundment structures indicates that there are 4,435 dams over six feet high in Georgia. Recent studies in the Upper Oconee River watershed, however, indicated that only 5 percent of dams were counted in the USEPA survey. The large number of dams on small streams was identified as the cause of the discrepancy between the USEPA survey and the research results of the Upper Oconee study; although the number of stream miles dammed into ponds is relatively small (8 percent of stream miles are inundated), the percentage of stream miles that no longer function as a part of the river and stream network is much greater.
The Georgia Power Company impounded waters for use as cooling structures for coal-fired electrical plants and hydropower. Additional reservoirs were built in the 1930s by the Tennessee Valley Authority as part of a large flood control and power generation project in the Tennessee River valley. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began constructing dams in Georgia for navigation and flood control in the 1940s and 1950s under the Flood Control Act of 1944 and the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act of 1954.
Many of the smaller impoundment structures in Georgia were also begun under the Flood Control Act of 1944 and the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act of 1954 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Under the Small Watersheds Program, 357 watershed structures were constructed in Georgia. Many of these structures are nearing the end of their fifty-year life span and require repair or rebuilding to meet dam safety laws.
The Piedmont. The land flooded by many of these impoundments was largely left intact; that is, buildings and many of the trees in the area were submerged as the waters accumulated behind the dam. The underwater landscape in these impoundments includes standing vegetation and building remnants that provide fish habitats. Many smaller impoundments are built by either excavating or clearing depressions before filling them with water. In the construction of many small impoundments, particularly in the unconsolidated soil of the Coastal Plain, the soil is compacted, or liners (of fabric or compacted clay) are used to prevent water loss through seepage.
Natural lakes tend to be located at the
Management of reservoir water levels result in large areas of sediments that are alternately flooded and exposed; frequent manipulation of water levels prevents the establishment of stabilizing wetlands and shoreline vegetation, and increases shoreline erosion and sediment loading. The frequent alternation between flooding and exposure may encourage sediments to release more nutrients than are found in natural lakes. The higher nutrient load encourages the growth of algae and other organisms that sink to the sediments upon death. The sediments gradually
Man-made lakes formed by river impoundment typically have hydrodynamic characteristics that are very different from natural lakes, consisting of riverine (riverlike), transitional, and lacustrine (lakelike) zones in the reservoir. Lakes created for hydropower generation may have additional variations in hydrodynamic characteristics caused by the flow created by the power-generating turbines, or by the pumping system for hydropower generation.
Smaller man-made lakes and ponds also have characteristics different from natural lakes. The creation of these impoundments can alter the shape of the basin to inhibit the establishment of emergent and shoreline vegetation necessary to prevent bank erosion. Small man-made lakes frequently have no outflow point, and hence accumulate sediments and nutrients at a faster rate than natural lakes. The result is that small man-made lakes support different flora and faunathan natural lakes.
The biota (animal and plant life) of man-made lakes may be very different from natural systems. Reservoirs are mussels and other bottom-dwelling species; for this reason many of Georgia's native mussel species are now in danger of extinction. The differences in flow and sediment also alter the base of the food web to one of suspended algae (phytoplankton), rather than the attached algae (periphyton) and detrital material that form the food base in rivers and streams.
More than 100 reservoirs were under construction or awaiting approval in the state in 2003. Georgia's man-made lakes provide many benefits, including recreation, water supply, flood control, navigation, and agricultural irrigation. The potential consequences of further fragmenting our natural river and stream systems, however, should be carefully considered to assure that the benefits of these proposed systems justify the financial and environmental costs.
Media Gallery: Man-Made Lakes