UPDATE: The debris removal at Deer Point Dam has been completed.
According to Valerie Sale, Public Information Officer for the Bay County Commission, the work has been completed and some mechanical repairs are being made to the dam and the gates today.
That work should be completed and the gates closed later today. The lake should return to its usual five-foot level in approximately 48 hours.
Literally tons of debris stacked up against the tide gates along Deer Point Dam when more than three feet of rain fell over a six week period.
This week, maintenance crews from Bay County's Utility Services Division are undoing nature's handiwork by clearing weeds, logs and other debris away from the dam.
Some residents still say the county's efforts to control the lake before rising water overran the banks were too little and too late. Paul Lackemacher, Utility Services Director, thinks otherwise.
"I'm absolutely convinced we attempted to lower the lake to the best of our ability in a timely fashion," Lackemacher said. "When you get inundated with the quantities of water that we saw in such a short period of time, it's not possible to physically release that water fast enough."
The 435 square mile watershed serves as the source of Bay County's drinking water supply and has an average depth of about eight feet. That level was reduced to 4.5 feet to allow county crews and state prison inmates to clean the dam above the water line.
"What we're doing right now is maintaining the level low enough below the top of the dam structure so the workers can safely navigate the top of the dam and get the debris out," Lackemacher said. "A lot of loose weeds flushed out of the reservoir and [got] trapped at the dam, so we're now lifting those weeds up and hauling them off."
In addition to nature's castoffs, the debris includes man made items such as soft drink bottles, a pallet and a picnic table. Collected debris will be transported to the county's landfill.
But it's the billions of gallons of rain water that swelled the lake and flooded property that has watershed homeowners upset. "The county is very sympathetic and has great empathy for their position, but the fact of the matter is it is a watershed," Lackemacher said. "This is just part of what living on the lake brings... it's unfortunate."
When the dam's drawdown gates are fully open, 1.7 billion gallons of water flow daily from Deer Point into North Bay. Tide gates, designed to prevent saltwater intrusion into the lake during a storm surge, line the 1,400 causeway over the dam and some resident have questioned why the county didn't fully open them as well.
"They are open," Lackemacher said. "Opening those in the full upright position would not add a great deal of water being released from the reservoir."
Lackemacher said it's impossible to please everyone – some citizens are now complaining that the lake's level is too low – so it comes down to making difficult choices. "Our first priority is protecting our drinking water supply and the health and safety that supply provides to the county," Lackemacher said.
Some Bayou George residents aren't buying the county's explanation and plan to attend next Tuesday's commission meeting to share their flooding stories.
Click here to see how Deer Point flooding affected one family.