Sometimes, there really is water over the dam!

Published 5:17 am Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The dam, or spillway, as some call it, was built as part of a road project many decades ago. The engineers misfigured the height of the dam and as a result the water rose around Compass Lake to historic levels wiping out almost every sandy beach along the shores.

In the middle of the night a group of men took out a concrete section along the top of the dam bringing the lake down to its more normal level. For most years, that is where it has remained with a strong stream of water being pushed out of the lake by the powerful springs.

That is, until five years ago. The sustained drought-like conditions we have endured in the southeast have taken a toll in a number of ways. Farmers have struggled if they were solely dependent on dry land farming. Cattle herds dwindled as grazing became more difficult and feed became more expensive.

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The states forming the tri-state area seemed to be at war, a water war to be exact, as the upstream demands seemed to be impacting the downstream needs. For the first time in this part of the country, water became truly precious. Maybe we didn’t have an unlimited supply of water after all.

At Compass Lake, the lake slowly began to drop. The low rainfalls combined by the increased irrigation brought the water table down and then down further. The big springs continued flowing, but not at the same rate as the underground pressure lessened.

The beaches became larger, which was a nice side effect of the drought, but boathouses became too shallow. You either extended your boathouse further out or your boat was beached like we did in the old days.

The conventional wisdom was that it would take a big hurricane to fill the lake back up, something you don’t necessarily want to wish for. But that was before July of 2013 came along.

Like southwest Georgia, Compass Lake received rain almost every day of the month. Not just summer showers, but hard driving rains coming in waves all day long. I emptied over four inches of rain out of my rain gauge on consecutive days.

Ditches were running full and pastures became ponds. Farmers sat idle as day after day the rain seemed to come. Depending on the area, July’s rainfall was between 200 and 300 percent more than normal. That was record breaking in many places.

One record that was broken was related to the temperature. Almost every single day in July was below normal and the 100-degree barrier was never seriously challenged. I fear we may look fondly back at July as the dog days of summer settle in.

Regardless of the challenges this weather has brought, the best thing I can say about it is that last week Compass Lake breached the spillway for the first time in years. There really is water over the dam!

Dan Ponder can be reached at