Different origins vary river levels

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JESUP, Ga. --- While the Altamaha River is flowing at an anemic level, a few miles to the southwest the smaller Satilla is flowing at a very healthy level.

Angie Pye, who owns a bait and tackle store in Jesup, looks out at the Altamaha River. She says fishermen have not been showing up as much because of the low levels of the river.  Morris News Service
Morris News Service
Angie Pye, who owns a bait and tackle store in Jesup, looks out at the Altamaha River. She says fishermen have not been showing up as much because of the low levels of the river.

This might have some locals scratching their heads, but there's a simple explanation.

The difference is in the points of origin, say two organizations that watch over the streams.

The Altamaha, formed by the confluence of the Oconee and Ocmulgee rivers, rises in the foothills of drought-stricken north Georgia. The Satilla flows from the swamps and wetlands of the southern part of the state where rain has fallen in recent weeks.

Except for a short-lived boost from Labor Day storms, the stage of the Altamaha has been less than 2 feet at Doctortown in Wayne County before the river dumps into the Atlantic.

"Under normal circumstances, the Altamaha should be much higher this time of year," said Altamaha Riverkeeper James Holland. "And not too much longer, it should be coming up out of its banks, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen this year."

Some of the lowest flows in the river in the past 50 years actually occurred in the dry weather of 2000, when in August the river fell to near a foot of water, said Jeff Dobur, senior hydrologist at the Southeast River Forecast Center in Peachtree City.

"I think some of the rains here in the past 60 days across south Georgia that north Georgia has not seen have helped stages from falling to these very low levels. We will have to see and hope that we see the winter and early spring rains come December through March," he said.

The river rose to a healthy level last winter, but it didn't last.

Mr. Holland worries that a continued drought will pit north Georgia against south Georgia.

"It's coming," he said. "They're going to treat us like Florida. They're going to pump water from one [river] basin to another and keep the water up there around Atlanta."


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