Leaning into fall

Despite having two hurricanes slash across the Southeast in as many months, the Savannah River Basin managed to collect only modest amounts of rain in September and October.

In September as Hurricane Florence inundated portions of North and South Carolina, the sub-basins struggled to collect more than 60 percent of their average rainfall.

Russell suffered the most, collecting a meager 1.9 inches – just 51 percent of its 3.7-inch average.

(Some readers may recall Hurricane Florence was projected to drop between 4-7 inches on the basin. An Augusta Chronicle editorial even went so far as to call the Corps of Engineers “negligent” for not pre-releasing. Although we had ample space in our reservoirs, the basin once again benefited from us not releasing water unnecessarily.)

The following month, with help from Hurricane Michael, the sub-basins rebounded as each surpassed its average by about half an inch.

Hartwell received the most overall with 3.1 inches in September (versus its 4.6-inch average) and 4.5 inches in October (versus its 4.1-inch average).

And now that hurricane season is winding down (knock on wood), meteorologists with the Southeast River Forecast Center are predicting a warmer than average winter with slightly above average rainfall (perhaps) in their monthly Water Resources Outlook.

All the models point to return to normal December temperatures and precipitation in the Southeast thanks in part to a weak to moderate El Niño.

Although the basin has seen its share of ups and downs this year (In the bar graph below May looks like the first kid in the sixth grade class to get a growth spurt), we’re still on par to reach our cumulative average by the end of the year.

Savannah River Basin rainfall for the past year. Blue represents observed rainfall, red is average rainfall.

~ Jeremy S. Buddemeier, Corporate Communications Office

Posted in Rainfall Update | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Corps of Engineers to reveal recommended fish passage alternative for lock & dam

SAVANNAH, Ga. – Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District, are scheduled to give a public presentation announcing the recommended fish passage plan Nov. 14 in North Augusta, South Carolina.

In addition to announcing the recommended plan, officials will describe the selection process, provide the status of the analysis with its connection with the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam, and discuss the expected impacts to the river.

The Corps will give the presentation at the North Augusta Municipal Building in the Council Chambers on the third floor, at 100 Georgia Ave., North Augusta, S.C. Doors open at 4 p.m. Officials will start the presentation at 4:30 p.m. and have time for questions until 6 p.m.

The presentation will provide the public information about the Corps’ recommended fish passage, how the alternative would impact the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam, as well as projected impacts to the Savannah River upstream of the recommended fish passage.

The recommended alternative is among the final seven proposed alternatives and refinements that the Corps studied under the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act of 2016 to provide a means for certain endangered fish to move upstream of the lock and dam to traditional spawning grounds. The endangered fish include shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon.

The spawning grounds have been unavailable to them since the construction of the structure in the 1930s. The Corps studied dozens of model scenarios and alternatives since January 2016 and their impacts on the environment and economics of the area.

The agency held a public open house in June showing the final seven alternatives and refinements under consideration. The fish passage is a mitigation requirement of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project.

The presentation will help the public understand the Corps’ overall purpose for the analyses – to recommend the most feasible, environmentally acceptable, and cost-effective fish passage alternative as required by the WIIN Act. Experts at the meeting will describe the nationally-approved, federal process used for the fish passage analysis, and when the Corps intends to submit a formal recommended plan with a draft report for public comment.

Project managers, planners and engineers will represent the Corps and will answer questions on various aspects of the recommended plan and other alternatives.

Representatives from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service will answer questions concerning impacts to endangered fish species in the area.

Posted in New Savannah Bluff Lock & Dam, SHEP | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When does the federal government get involved in water resources issues?

By Steve Fischer
Chief of Planning Branch

It may strike some as an oddity that the U.S. Army is charged with riverine projects.

National civil works is a primary mission of the Army’s Corps of Engineers, but there are qualifications.

Before the Corps can participate in a civil works project, it requires three key items. Those include a Congressional authority, determination of federal interest, and an appropriation to study, design, and finally construct a solution. Without these, the Corps cannot proceed with a federal undertaking.

A necessary principle that governs federal activity is a request from a local government or entity to the Corps requesting assistance in solving a water resources problem. Most issues are local and addressed by local government. When local government is not equipped to solve the issue and believe it should be addressed by the federal government, the Corps must verify it is a federal responsibility and seek authority and funding for execution.

Once the Corps has an authority and funding, it can begin a feasibility study. One of the first steps conducted is to make a Federal Interest Determination.

Simply stated, the Corps will determine if a cost-effective, environmentally-justified, and technically-feasible practicable solution is likely and in the interest of the American taxpayer. It will also identify a cost-share project partner. A cost-effective solution will explore the benefits gained from a proposed project versus the cost to build an implementable solution.

Benefits can include items such as increased habitat units (ecosystem restoration study), flood damages prevented (flood risk management study), or reductions in costs associated with the use of larger vessels (navigation study). Contributions to national economic development (NED) are increases in the net value of the national output of goods and services, expressed in monetary units.

Contributions to NED are the direct net benefits that accrue. A plan recommending federal action is to be the alternative plan with the greatest net economic benefit consistent with protecting the nation’s environment (the NED plan).

If no federal interest can be determined, the feasibility study will be terminated. However, if federal interest is identified, the study will proceed and a recommended plan will be identified, approved and forwarded to Congress for consideration of funding and construction.

It may seem unusual that the U.S. Army is entrusted with domestic civil works missions, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is, and has always been, the most capable and best equipped force of engineers to execute civil works missions on a national scale.

For those interested in seeking federal assistance in addressing a water resource issue, contact the Savannah District Corps of Engineers at (912) 652-5781 or email CESAS-PD.SAS@usace.army.mil.

Posted in Guest Author, Water Management | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Savannah District Commander: Our system is a magnificent design

By Col. Daniel Hibner, Savannah District Commander

We are always grateful for an opportunity to explain how we operate the dams and reservoirs on the Savannah River. The Augusta Chronicle editorial staff has given us one such opportunity based on their Sept. 13 article in their explanation of why we don’t pre-release water from Thurmond Dam in anticipation of Hurricane Florence.

They are correct to report we do not make pre-releases in response to forecasted weather. Part of the reason for this is the lack of precision in weather forecasts.  So our engineers incorporated the unreliability of forecasts into the design of the Hartwell, Russell and Thurmond dams and reservoirs.

And it is truly a magnificent design. Continue reading

Posted in From the Commander | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On rainfall and reservoirs re: Hurricane Florence

A photo of the eye of Hurricane Florence taken from space by European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst.

(Editor’s Note: We have received several calls from media and concerned citizens related to our operations and posture as Hurricane Florence makes her way toward the East Coast. Below is a consolidation of our responses to these questions as of Sept. 12.)

The Savannah District remains at normal operations. This includes the District’s three hydropower dams and their associated reservoirs.

We have no plans at this time for any pre-releases of water from the reservoirs. The Corps bases its releases on current conditions, not on predictions that may or may not happen. Continue reading

Posted in Flood Risk Management, Rainfall Update | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wet summer could make Southeast more vulnerable

The graph shows the hurricane and tropical storm activity by month. September and October are normally the most active times during the year.

Hydrologists from NOAA’s Southeast River Forecast Center released their most recent Water Resources Outlook last week. Continue reading

Posted in Videos, WRO, WRO | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

One soggy summer

Every day as I pack up to go home I remind myself: This is not normal. Continue reading

Posted in Rainfall Update | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Balancing fish passage and current uses

(Editor’s Note: This post, written by Savannah District Deputy District Engineer Erik Blechinger, was published in the Augusta Chronicle July 21.)

Not all dams exist to create storage reservoirs or retain floodwaters; some dams were constructed simply to provide a deeper river channel for commercial navigation.

The New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam was constructed for this sole purpose. And this distinction is critical to understanding the proposed design alternatives being studied for the de-authorization of the navigation federal purpose and future fish passage as part of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) as directed by Congress under Public Law No: 114-322 (12/16/2016) known as the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN).

The location of the Augusta lock and dam is connected to the federal purpose for which it was constructed in 1937, which was to enable commercial barge traffic to reach Augusta at a navigation depth of 9 feet.

While its presence does buoy upstream interests like recreation and water supply – it was never Congressionally authorized or operated to mitigate flood risk.

Augusta’s lock and dam is a run-of-the-river structure that does not impound water, which is the main component of a flood risk mitigation dam.

Augusta’s lock and dam is very different from an impoundment structure, such as J. Strom Thurmond Dam. These kinds of dams protect downstream communities by holding flood waters during storm events. They don’t pass 100 percent of river flow, but gradually release the surplus water over time.

When the Corps of Engineers designs a dam for the purposes of impounding water, plans must include purchasing property and structures, as well as flood storage easements upstream, in locations that will be inundated when the reservoir is full.

Once the Corps constructs a flood mitigation structure the federal government prohibits construction upstream in specific areas so that even when full, no property upstream of the impoundment is at risk.

The New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam is in a different category of dams compared to the J. Strom Thurmond Dam because it is positioned downstream of the community, and has no ability to impound water during storm events.

The lock and dam is not designed to provide flood control (in the traditional sense) to the communities upstream, nor are any of the fish passage alternatives under consideration.

Communities in proximity to the lock and dam do benefit from flood risk mitigation; but that mitigation is provided by the major reservoirs upstream (Hartwell, Russell, and Thurmond), in combination with the Augusta levee. These impoundment structures significantly buy down flood risk for Augusta and neighboring communities.

Development along the river in Augusta and North Augusta has increased in recent decades, partly enabled by the dams upstream reducing flood risk. This development, some of it on the river side of the levee, now acts as an additional constraint when evaluating fish passage alternatives at the lock and dam site.

A structure that would maintain higher pool levels under normal conditions would also increase flood inundation during large storm events. This is not viable.

It should also be noted, that when Congress passed the WIIN Act, they effectively secured a pool that is now protected by federal law. Without the fish passage legislation, the lock and dam (lacking a federal purpose) could potentially deteriorate to the point of failure.

The fish passage alternatives being considered must maintain the current pool functionality while minimizing the risk of upstream flooding on private, commercial, or industrial property.

For this reason, design alternatives feature a weir crest that is lower than some in the public may prefer.

~ Erik Blechinger, Savannah District Deputy District Engineer

Posted in New Savannah Bluff Lock & Dam, SHEP | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thurmond opens registration for National Public Lands Day

More than 300 people participated in last year’s National Public Lands Day. Don’t miss your chance to make a big difference in your community. RSVP by Sept. 12.

SAVANNAH, Ga. – Thurmond Lake is seeking individual and group volunteers for its annual cleanup campaign on National Public Lands Day, Sept. 29, 2018.

Volunteers will work on a variety of projects including debris cleanup, brush clearing, and trail and park maintenance along the shoreline, islands, recreation areas, coves, old road ends and bridge areas.

“Scouting groups, civic organizations, sports clubs, church groups, businesses, families and individuals can participate, Ken Boyd, chief of the Forest, Fish and Wildlife office at Thurmond Lake, said. “The event runs from 8 a.m. to noon with check-in at the Below Dam South Carolina Recreation Area.”

A picnic for volunteers follows the clean-up. Below Dam Recreation Area is at 384 Power Plant Road, Clarks Hill, South Carolina.

To participate, volunteers must complete and return a volunteer agreement available online. Participants volunteering as a group can download a group sign up form.

Completed forms can be dropped off or mailed to the Thurmond Project Office at 510 Clarks Hill Highway, Clarks Hill, SC 29821. Forms may also be faxed to 864-333-1150 or emailed to CESAS-OP-T@usace.army.mil. Participants must RSVP by Sept. 12.

“Volunteers should be mindful of safety hazards and risks while performing work,” Boyd said. A position hazard analysis is available for download.

All volunteers should wear closed-toed shoes, long pants (planned work could result in potential staining and damage to volunteer clothing) and bring plenty of water. Volunteers should plan to arrive a few minutes early for check-in and a safety talk.

Participants will receive free T-shirts and a one-day pass for free admission to any federal park site (while supplies last).

In the event of severe weather conditions, National Public Lands Day events will be cancelled. No rain date is scheduled.

National Public Lands Day is a nationwide day of service for volunteering at local, state and federal public lands. The cleanup is also part of Georgia’s statewide Rivers Alive program.

For more information, contact Ranger Ben Werner at 864-333-1131 or toll free at 800-533-3478, extension 1131.

Posted in NPLD, Recreation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Getting by with a little help from last month

The chart shows hourly Doppler radar estimates of rainfall for the Hartwell sub-basin in May.

Still on the mend from a two-year drought, the Savannah River Basin came roaring back in May, only to sputter out as the summer officially arrived. Continue reading

Posted in Rainfall Update | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment