Behind the scenes at Walter F. George Dam - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Behind the scenes at Walter F. George Dam

EUFAULA, AL (WTVM) -

TheWalter F. George Dam holds Lake Eufaula, a 46,000 acre body of water at 185feet above sea level.

NewsLeader 9's Dante Renzulli took a tour on Wednesday of the lock that allows boatsto get from one side of the dam to the other.

Theway it works, boats enter an enclosed area on the side of the dam that can holdup to eight vessels at a time. The lock then gets filled or drained of water,depending upon whether you're entering or exiting the lake. In less than 20minutes, 24 million gallons are moved to bring your boat level with the water outsidethe sealed doors.

"Our locks, it's an interesting experience," said Bill Smallwood, Army Corps ofEngineers project manager. "If you haven't seen them and don't know they'rethere, folks need to come see them. Especially down at Walter George, that's an88 foot drop. It's the second deepest lock east of the Mississippi River."

The lock can move a ship up to 450 feet long. Recently though, nothing largerthan a pleasure craft has been through the lock in a long time.

"We haven't had any commercial shipping in several years. We can no longermaintain the channel. Our dredging, back in 2005, we were denied a permit bythe state of Florida so we can't dredge the channel there," said Smallwood.

Florida has cited environmental concerns for wanting to keep the river shallow.Dredging may negatively affect their natural wildlife. Due to the lack of rain receivedthis year, the channel in Florida is as low as six inches at some points, which makes treacherous sailing for even asmall boat. Navigation of a large freighter would be impossible.

 The government originally proposed shuttingdown the locks altogether as part of a cost-cutting effort, but in the pastweek, there's been a change of heart.

"Well originally we weren't going to do recreation traffic at all," saidSmallwood. "What changed is that we were able to meet the desired cost savingsand still be able to provide some level of service. It's reduced service fromwhat we had before."

The locks will be open for one eight-hour shift per day. For Columbus boaters,this means access to points south of Eufaula and possibly making it all the wayto the Gulf. If boaters want it to stay that way, the Army Corps of Engineers advises that more people pass through thelock.

Giventhe lack of commercial shipping, it may shut down for good if they don't see enoughrecreational traffic in years to come.

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