Discover the Most Polluted Lake in Georgia (And What Lives In It)

Lake Lanier Atlanta
Brett Barnhill/Shutterstock.com

Written by Kyle Glatz

Updated: August 13, 2023

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Lake Lanier is the Most Polluted Lake in Georgia
Lake Lanier is one of the most polluted lakes in the country.

People rely on nearby rivers and lakes more than they know. Many such bodies of water are sources of drinking water and sanitation for millions of people. However, some of these waters are polluted by human activities such as agricultural runoff and wastewater management. While Georgia may not have been home to such heavy industry as the Mid-Atlantic region, the state still has a pollution problem. Learn about the most polluted lake in Georgia including where it’s located, what lives there, and how it came to be so polluted.  

What is the Most Polluted Lake in Georgia?

Lake Lanier

Lake Lanier is considered the most polluted lake in the state of Georgia.

The most polluted lake in Georgia is Lake Lanier. That may or may not come as much of a surprise since Lake Lanier is ranked one of the 10 most polluted lakes in the United States.

Lake Lanier is officially called Lake Sidney Lanier, and it’s a well-known body of water in the state. The reservoir is located in Gwinnett County, a northern portion of the state.  The lake measures about 59 square miles in surface area with hundreds of miles of coastline.

The lake was formed following the construction of the Buford Dam along the Chattahoochee River, a project finished in 1956. The government ordered the creation of the lake for a supply of water along with flood control.

Lake Lanier has been called one of the most polluted lakes in Georgia dating back decades. One report issued in 1991 found that the lake was inundated with phosphorus, nitrogen, and other oxygen-demanding pollutants.

In recent years, Lake Lanier has been named to the Georgia Water Coalition’s “Dirty Dozen.” This list refers to the bodies of water in the state that have been most affected by a lack of proper funding for the state’s environmental agencies.

The lake has a problem with algae from time to time. Also, the lake is consistently polluted with runoff from homes and farms. Also, the lake suffers from the impacts of sewage discharge. In 2021, pollution in the lake caused algae blooms that led to the lake’s water, including the drinking water it provides, having an odd odor and taste. These issues continue to plague portions of the lake from year to year.

Measures to Counter the Pollution in Lake Lanier

A seed and fertilizer spreader sitting out on a lawn

Using excessive fertilizer or putting the product down before rain can increase pollution in Lake Lanier.

Several government organizations are engaged in measures to reduce the amount of pollution in the waters of Lake Lanier. For example, the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper is a group that utilizes water monitoring, education, and advocacy to reduce the impact of pollution in this body of water.

The organization also helps coordinate cleanups in the area of Lake Lanier and uses the law to stop polluters. Some of the most important work these groups do is to identify sources of pollution and report them.

Among the most common sources of pollution that are encountered in the region include residential fertilizer runoff, septic system overflows, irresponsible dumping, and putting oil and fats in their drains.

Monitoring the water and advocating for changes have led to better outcomes in the lake.

What Animals Live in the Most Polluted Lake in Georgia?

A man wearing hip waders and long-sleeved white shirt and a ball cap is seen gripping an enormous silver/grat striped bass among some stones at the edge of a body of water odf a deep. dark green. The reel can be seen behind the anglers face.

In terms of diet, striped bass feed on a variety of prey, including other fish, squid, and crustaceans.

Although Lake Lanier is the most polluted lake in Georgia, several animals live in the water and nearby. Some of the fish that live in Lake Lanier include:

These are just a few of the fish that live in the lake. It’s easy to see why it’s such a popular destination for anglers throughout the state. In particular, people come to Lake Lanier for its striped bass and largemouth bass. In fact, the largest striped bass ever pulled from the waters at Lake Lanier weighed a massive 47 pounds! Yet, people that go to the lake need to understand the local laws and rules for fishing. That may require fishers to get licensed before heading out to the lake.

Aside from the fish in the water, many other creatures live near the lake. For example, you’ll probably find:

  • Frogs
  • Toads
  • Salamanders
  • Common black rat snakes
  • Rabbits
  • Wild Turkeys

People can encounter some venomous snakes in northern Georgia, including the copperhead snake. Practicing good snake safety by giving snakes a wide berth is something that everyone should aspire to when visiting the area.  

Sometimes, people worry about one particular animal in this region: alligators. Fortunately, alligators do not typically live in Lake Lanier. However, alligators are sometimes spotted in the region, but those are very rare occasions. Thus, it’s best to keep a lookout just in case.

Can You Swim in Lake Lanier?

Friends having fun enjoying a summer day swimming and jumping at the lake.

Lake Lanier is a very popular place to swim.

Yes, people go swimming in Lake Lanier all the time despite it being the most polluted lake in Georgia. However, swimming is not advisable at all times and in every place. Most people will go swimming at the designated beaches that dot Lake Lanier. However, some establishments along the lakefront have stopped people from going swimming for safety reasons.

One of the reasons that people may not want to swim in the waters of Lake Lanier is the pollution that comes after heavy rain. Excessive water brings in bacteria and other pollutants from the surrounding area.

The Chattahoochee Riverkeepers test the water for bacteria to ensure swimmers’ safety. From time to time, their findings result in a no-swim warning. However, the lake is mostly available for people to use for swimming, boating, fishing, and other activities on the shores.

Sunset over Lake Lanier in Gainesville, Georgia

Lake Lanier is a lovely spot for boating and swimming.

Although Lake Lanier is considered the most polluted lake in Georgia, it’s still a place that people love to use for recreation. It’s a place where people can swim, fish, go boating, and more. However, it’s up to the businesses and people that live in the area to ensure the lake stays on the path towards cleanliness.

Reducing the use of lawn fertilizers, maintaining a good septic system, reporting lawbreakers for dumping, and other actions can help ensure the lake is useful for people in the future. That way, generations of fishers and swimmers can enjoy the waters. Most importantly, the lake could one day shed the title of being the most polluted in the state!

Where is Lake Lanier Located on a Map?

Found tucked away in the northern part of Georgia, Lake Lanier is a reservoir formed by the construction of the Buford Dam on the Chattahoochee River in 1956. The waters of the Chestatee River also replenish this reservoir.

Here is Lake Lanier on a map:


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About the Author

Kyle Glatz is a writer at A-Z-Animals where his primary focus is on geography and mammals. Kyle has been writing for researching and writing about animals and numerous other topics for 10 years, and he holds a Bachelor's Degree in English and Education from Rowan University. A resident of New Jersey, Kyle enjoys reading, writing, and playing video games.

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