Earlier we asked readers to pose questions they would like us to address in Balancing the Basin. One reader asked why Richard B. Russell Lake varies little in its level and if it could be used to protect the levels of the other two reservoirs. We get this question from time-to-time, especially during a drought when the levels of Hartwell Lake and Thurmond Lake decline.
The short answer to these questions: Planners designed Russell Lake to operate within a limited range. Allowing it drop more than 5 feet below full pool significantly impacts its ability to generate power and can lead to damage to the multi-million-dollar turbines.
The longer explanation: All three reservoirs have multiple purposes – hydropower production, downstream navigation, water supply, water quality, recreation, and fish and wildlife management. Hartwell and Thurmond have another, vital, purpose of flood risk reduction (originally called ‘flood control) that Russell Lake does not have. Instead, hydropower production sits at the top of the mission list for Russell Lake.