Fish spawning season is here—and it’s looking good, Corps biologist says

The annual water management period for fish spawning officially began April 5 in the Savannah River Basin—and so far, conditions are favorable for a very productive spawn, said Jamie Sykes, fisheries biologist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District.

According to Sykes, spawning season begins when surface water temperatures reach 65 degrees Fahrenheit at Hartwell, Russell and Thurmond lakes.

“We use 65 degrees as a starting point since that’s the preferred spawning temperature for largemouth bass, which is the most popular sport fish on our Savannah River reservoirs,” Sykes said. “But that temperature also falls within the spawning season for other species, so it benefits multiple species.”

The largemouth bass is the most popular sport fish on the Savannah River reservoirs.

The largemouth bass is the most popular sport fish on the Savannah River reservoirs.

During this period—which typically lasts between four and six weeks—water managers aim to maintain pool elevations with no more than a six inch drop in reservoir levels. Sykes said that a slight increase in pool elevation during spawning season is permissible, but drastic increases can be just as troublesome for spawning as rapid decreases.

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Below-average rainfall trend continues through March; Corps monitoring basin conditions closely

For the last seven months, with the exception of December, the Savannah River reservoirs have received below-average monthly rainfall. That trend continued throughout March, with below-average rainfall recorded at the Hartwell, Russell and Thurmond sub-basins.

RainfallBarGraphMar2014The Thurmond sub-basin received the most rainfall out of all three reservoirs with a recorded 4 inches. That ranked 83.2 percent of normal rainfall for this time of year at Thurmond.

The Russell and Hartwell sub-basins both recorded 3.9 inches of rain in March. That equates to 79.7 percent of normal at Russell and 64.8 percent of normal for Hartwell.

Similar to rain patterns in February and January, most of the rainfall received throughout March came in short, concentrated storms. On March 7, it rained 1.3 inches at Hartwell, 1.5 inches at Russell, and 1 inch at Thurmond in just one day. This was followed by about a week of dry weather. Then on March 16, the basin received another concentrated rain event, recording an inch of rain at all three reservoirs.

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Oconee and Lincoln counties to take over select Corps park operations April 1

Back in November, we announced on this blog federal recreation budget cuts that would impact Corps-operated parks at Hartwell and Thurmond lakes. Since that announcement, our team has been actively pursuing leasing opportunities with local governments around the lake to transfer park operations and maintenance.

We are pleased to announce that starting this April, the local governments of Lincoln County, Ga., and Oconee County, S.C., will begin operating several Corps day use areas and campgrounds previously scheduled for closure.

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A lot of dam training

What does it take to operate and maintain a dam? Technical aptitude, well-honed skills, teamwork—and a lot of dam training.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District provides a rigorous, four-year apprenticeship program that trains college students to work high-demand jobs at hydroelectric dams in the region.

“The Hydropower Training Program is how we get new craft workers into our dams and power plants,” said William Palmer, chief of the Hydropower Technical Center. “It helps us attract qualified people and train them in the specialized skills needed to operate our hydroelectric dams.”

Josh Brown, an electrical trainee in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Hydropower Training Program, works on electrical equipment at the Richard B. Russell Dam.

Josh Brown, an electrical trainee in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Hydropower Training Program, works on electrical equipment at the Richard B. Russell Dam.

The Corps employs mechanics, electricians, shift operators and other technical experts at its three dams on the Savannah River—Hartwell, Richard B. Russell and J. Strom Thurmond. Many of them are graduates of the Hydropower Training Program.

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Forecasters call for a ‘normal’ rainfall season

Billy Birdwell, Senior Public Affairs Specialist, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District.

Billy Birdwell, Senior Public Affairs Specialist, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District.

About this time in 2013 I began spring by noting forecasters expected a dry summer with continual reductions in reservoir levels. Those predictions became laughable in July when we made only the second operational spillway release in the history of the Hartwell Dam; and when all three reservoirs experienced levels well into flood storage.

No one really complained about too much water, however.

In spite of my poor showing last year, I did some research and will attempt another prediction of the coming months at lakes Hartwell, Russell and Thurmond.

For this column, I consulted NOAA’s website and met with our water managers. As before, this is a prediction, not prophesy. Some years ago, I read a sign near Old Faithful geyser at Yellowstone National Park: “We predict the next eruption, we don’t schedule them.”

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February Rainfall Update: Icy weather increases run-off, rainfall below average

February brought an unusual mix of winter weather to the Savannah River Basin, with several instances of snow and ice accumulation in the Thurmond, Russell and Hartwell sub-basins.

The widespread winter storm that swept through the area Feb. 11 – Feb. 13 brought approximately 1.82 inches of rainfall to the Thurmond sub-basin, 1.75 inches to Russell, and 1.28 inches to Hartwell.

Melting snow and ice boosted run-off into the reservoirs, keeping them above the winter guide curve level. Additionally, the basin experienced a single rainfall event Feb. 21 that brought an inch of rain to all three reservoirs.

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6 Months Later: An Update on the Comprehensive Study

On Sept. 18 we commenced the Second Interim of the Savannah River Basin Comprehensive Study, bringing us six months into the process. In this post, I hope to provide a brief update on the progress as well as shed some light on the nature of the study itself.

To restate, the entire Comp Study is broken up into three interim phases. The phase in progress now is the second interim, scheduled to last 18 months. The purpose of this interim is to answer the following questions:

  1. How low can we reduce daily outflows at the Thurmond Dam during drought conditions?
  2. How many days can we sustain these minimum outflows before significant impacts would occur to the economy and environment?

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Dams safe and sound following earthquakes

If you felt the ground shake this past weekend, you’re not alone. Many people throughout the Savannah River Basin (and beyond) reported tremors during two earthquakes Feb. 14 and Feb. 16. But rest assured, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dams are safe and sound.

According to reports from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), a 4.1 magnitude earthquake occurred at 10:23 p.m. on Feb. 14. It was centered 7 miles west of Edgefield, S.C., but news reports say it was felt as far west as Atlanta and as far north as Hickory, N.C. (about 150 miles away). An aftershock quake was recorded on Feb. 16 at 3:23 p.m., registering 3.2 magnitude and occurring in the same area as the first quake.

Following each quake, our team immediately began inspecting the Thurmond, Russell and Hartwell dams and their related embankments and structures, including the two diversion dams at Clemson University. Onsite operators did immediate visual checks with security cameras. We also brought in additional personnel to do on-site inspections and take numerous data readings at the dams.

All preliminary inspections are now complete and no structural damages or abnormalities were reported.

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VIDEO: The “balance” of flood control

Many stakeholders have expressed an interest in why the Hartwell and Thurmond reservoirs have been out of balance over the last couple months. The answer lies in our flood control operations. Our Corporate Communications Officer Russell Wicke explains the process in the video below:




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January rainfall below average, but conditions remain favorable

Coming off a record-breaking wet December, the Savannah River reservoirs received a bit less than average rainfall this January, though conditions are still favorable for runoff.

The Russell sub-basin came very close to receiving average rainfall for the month with a recorded 4.1 inches. That’s 93 percent of normal rainfall for this time of year at Russell.

The Hartwell sub-basin received 70 percent of normal rainfall for the month, recording 3.7 inches. Thurmond received slightly more rain than Hartwell at 79 percent of normal, with a recorded 3.5 inches for the month.


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