Weiss Dam, near Leesburg in Cherokee County, was the first dam built as part of an Alabama Power Company construction program that would further alter the Coosa River in the late 1950s and the 1960s. Construction started July 13, 1958, and Weiss began generating power June 5, 1961. The facility was named after Fernand C. Weiss, a former chief engineer of Alabama Power. Weiss Dam is a gravity concrete and earth-fill dam that reaches 392 feet in length and 126 feet in height; it includes earth dikes that total 30,406 feet in length. The dam's three generators have a rating of 29,250 kilowatts each, providing a total generating capacity of 87,750 kilowatts, which ranks ninth among Alabama Power's 14 hydroelectric generating facilities.
Weiss Dam is unique to Alabama Power's system because the spillway gates are about four miles from the powerhouse. Water is diverted through a one-mile man-made canal to the forebay of the powerhouse. When the plant is generating, water is passed through the man-made tailrace channel back into the original riverbed. Weiss Dam drains a watershed area of 5,273 square miles that draws from northeast Alabama and northwest Georgia.
Weiss Lake covers approximately 30,200 acres and crosses the state border into Georgia. The reservoir is 52 miles long and has 447 miles of shoreline, second only to Alabama Power's Lake Martin. Most of Weiss Lake is in Cherokee County, which borders Etowah County north of Gadsden in the company's Eastern Division. The summer pool level of Weiss is 564 feet above sea level, second highest among Alabama Power's reservoirs, behind Lake Harris at 793 feet.
Alabama Power regulates lake levels based on guidelines set by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. There are two types of lakes formed by the company's hydroelectric dams: "run-of-river" and storage. The main difference between these lakes is how the water levels change. Weiss is a storage lake and thus has a seasonally varying water level. Power production is enhanced if Weiss is maintained at the highest level during the hot summer months, when public demand for electricity is greatest. By early fall, the lake level is lowered, usually reaching its lowest point in December to provide room for flood storage in anticipation of the rainy season. Ideally, storage lakes are refilled by winter and spring rains. Storage lakes provide flood control and better navigation and allow for annual shoreline maintenance.
The history of Weiss Dam and Lake can be traced to at least the 1890s, when Capt. William Patrick Lay helped organize the Coosa-Alabama River Improvement Association, which sought to convince the federal government to open the Coosa to navigation from Mobile to Gadsden. In 1906, Lay incorporated Alabama Power Company, in part to harness the Coosa's water power. Lay sold Alabama Power in 1912, and his plan was put on hold for nearly half a century, until demand for electricity soared with the post-World War II economic boom. Alabama Power convinced the U.S. Congress in the 1950s to remove federal restrictions on the construction of dams along the upper Coosa River. Groundbreaking ceremonies for the $30 million dam occurred on April 26, 1958, as Alabama Gov. Jim Folsom and many other local, state, and federal officials formed part of a crowd of more than 10,000 enjoying a free barbecue lunch.
Weiss Lake is often referred to as the "Crappie Capital of the World" and since its early days has been an attractive destination
for fishermen. Other species found in Weiss include: largemouth bass, spotted bass, white bass, striped bass, hybrid striper, bluegill, longear sunfish,
redear sunfish, channel catfish, blue catfish, flathead catfish, and freshwater drum.
Leah Rawls Atkins. "Developed for the Service of Alabama": The Centennial History of the Alabama Power Company, 1906-2006. Birmingham, Alabama Power Company, 2006.
Weiss Lake Coosa River Recreation Map. Birmingham, Alabama Power Company, 2001.
Alabama Power Media Handbook & State Resource Guide. Birmingham, Alabama Power Company, 2003.
Respecting Our Reservoirs, Working Together for Shoreline Conservation. Birmingham, Alabama Power Company, 2005.
Published February 2, 2009
Last updated October 26, 2012