updated 10/15/2009 10:24:14 AM ET 2009-10-15T14:24:14

The drought that plagued the Southeast has been over for months, but to many in north Georgia it didn't officially release its grip until Wednesday when it reached a height it hadn't topped in more than four years.

Lake Lanier, the sprawling north Georgia reservoir that supplies most of metro Atlanta with its water, reached full pool level for the first time since September 2005. And then it kept rising beyond the 1,071 feet above sea level mark, thanks to another round of rain.

It was a symbolic mark, of course, as the Southeast emerged months ago from the epic drought that lasted for the region from 2007 until earlier this year. For much of that time, Lanier was the dreary mascot of the historic drought, the epicenter of dry conditions that seemed to spread like an ink blot across the region.

The brimming lake looks much different today than the worst days of the drought, when metro Atlanta officials were scrambling to find backup plans in case the lake levels continued to decline. Even Gov. Sonny Perdue was compelled to call an emergency prayer vigil for rain on the steps of the state Capitol.

Back then, the falling lake levels revealed acres of drying mud that offered visitors a glimpse of long-forgotten highways and building foundations plunged deep underwater when the federal government created the lake in the 1950s. One side of the parched lake even sported the remnants of what was once a popular dirt race track.

For residents and businesses around Lanier's shores, these aren't faded memories. Lanier, after all, was about 20 feet under full pool less than a year ago. So the celebrating was a bit more personal.

"We're all partying here at the lake. We couldn't feel much better," gushed Alex Laidlaw of Westrec Marinas, which saw its Lanier business decline about 15 percent during the drought. "It's an amazing thing."

The lake's rebound reverberated far from its shores.

Some trumpeted the success of Georgia's aggressive water restrictions, which banned virtually all outdoor water use across north Georgia and required many utilities in the area to cut water use by 10 percent. Environmentalists talked of the need for more permanent efforts.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle used the opportunity to press the U.S. Corps of Engineers, which manages the lake, to maintain water level above full pool to "store more of our state's liquid gold and put a little away for an un-rainy day." And local residents flitted between joy and trepidation.

"Being back to a full pool helps everybody's attitude," said Kit Dunlap, the president of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce. "Everywhere I go, they say, 'Can you believe it?' I mean, who would have ever believed, just a year ago, that Lake Lanier would be back at full pool?"

But even Dunlap — in between receiving congratulatory "e-mails by the kazoo" — had to temper her enthusiasm.

"Everybody is so excited, but my fear is water conservation measures will go away," she said. "And no matter where you live, we need to have conservation measures in place in our homes and business. I hope that attention won't go away now that we have plenty of water."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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