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

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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

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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

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One soggy summer

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

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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

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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 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.

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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

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Common questions and answers from the Fish Passage Open House

Last week we met with the local community in and around Augusta, Georgia, in order to reveal the five alternative fish passage designs under consideration for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) Fish Passage feature at the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam site.

After giving the presentation to different groups we noted that during the Q&A session some of the subject matter was prone to misunderstanding and a few questions were frequently asked. Continue reading

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Timing is everything (except when it’s not)

A view of J. Strom Thurmond Dam while its gates are being repaired. Counting from the right, repairs on the first 6 gates have been completed. Photo: Scott Hyatt

Seepage is visible on the sides of the spillway. Photo: Scott Hyatt

It’s safe to say the last few months have been good to the basin in terms of rainfall.

In May, Hartwell and Thurmond blew their averages out of the water, receiving more than double their normal precipitation (9.6 and 7.4 inches versus their 4.5 and 3.6 inch averages, respectively).

So why, now that we’re at full pool after enduring one of the worst droughts in the basin’s history, did the Corps of Engineers decide to start a maintenance project on Thurmond’s gates, which requires keeping the pool at 329 feet above mean sea level?

And for that matter, weren’t the gates already fixed a few years ago? Continue reading

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Corps of Engineers to hold public open house on fish passage at lock and dam

Local residents will have an opportunity to learn more about the ongoing analysis of the fish passage construction at the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam on Tuesday, June 26 in Augusta, Georgia. The informational open house will be led by officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District. Continue reading

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