Environmental monitoring underway for Savannah harbor deepening

Mitigation Logo PreConstuctionMonitoring2-01Editors Note: This is the first in a series of articles to explain environmental monitoring efforts associated with the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. This series will focus on the various monitoring activities that must take place before construction begins. Subsequent articles will discuss specific features of the pre-construction environmental monitoring.


With the signing of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 earlier this year, many people expected construction of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) to start immediately. However, several actions need to take place before construction can occur.

“Environmental monitoring ranks high in the hierarchy of actions that must take place before construction begins,” according to Jason O’Kane, senior project manager for the SHEP with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District. “Some of the pre-construction environmental monitoring takes a year or longer to accomplish before we can begin any work.”

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Russell Lake: Generating power while protecting other reservoirs’ levels

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, and that range was defined by Congress as our conservation storage allotment. Allowing it drop more than 5 feet below full pool can impact the efficiency of the turbines, but it also violates operating parameters that can only be chanced by congressional authorization.

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.

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What determines outflows during normal operations?

On a June 11 post we solicited input from readers on topics they would like to see covered on this blog. One of the responses we received asked for more information on how release rates are determined during normal operations. Here is the inquiry I hope to address in this post:

“Summer lake level management for Hartwell and Thurmond. I note from an earlier post that, ‘According to our water control manual, the reservoirs are in normal conditions during the summer when water levels are within the first four feet of conservation storage’. Release rates are defined after levels drop four feet. But what factors determine release rates in the first four feet?”

Related to this, several stakeholders have noticed the most recent projection predicts a gradual decline in levels at Hartwell and Thurmond over the next 10 weeks. They have noted the projection includes an assumption that rainfall will return to 100 percent of normal at both Hartwell and Thurmond. These questions naturally follow: ‘If we receive 100 percent of normal rainfall, why the decline?’ ‘Why aren’t release rates adjusted to compensate?’ The remainder of this post aims to answer these two questions.

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June rainfall ranks normal at Thurmond; below average at Hartwell and Russell

Although it rained almost every day of the month, June rainfall amounts ranked below average at the Hartwell and Russell sub-basins; but the Thurmond basin received normal rainfall for this time of year.

Throughout June, the National Weather Service recorded rain on 28 days Hartwell, 27 days at Thurmond, and 26 days at Russell. However, daily rainfall amounts were only fractions of an inch. The largest single rain event last month (1.2 inches) occurred on June 12 at the Hartwell sub-basin.


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3 things that could save your life at the lake

Editor’s Note: This post is written by Joe Melton, a natural resource program manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District. A former park ranger, Joe now oversees the District’s water safety program for lakes Hartwell, Russell, and Thurmond.

As the Independence Day weekend rapidly approaches, the temperatures are soaring and the lakes are full. Everyone is seeking ways to cool off, and many are dying to get back on the lake—but for some the dying part is literal.

There have been four recreation fatalities on the Corps of Engineers’ Savannah River lakes this fiscal year, and all of them were preventable.

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Thurmond Lake Hydrilla Update

Last week we asked our readers for topics they would like us to cover on Balancing the Basin; and we received several questions about hydrilla at J. Strom Thurmond Lake. This post provides an update on the hydrilla issue and potential treatment.

Hydrilla, an invasive aquatic plant, has gradually expanded its reach along Thurmond Lake’s shoreline since the mid-‘90s. Hydrilla is present along approximately 53 percent of Thurmond’s shoreline. Since water depth and available nutrients limit its growth, hydrilla only impacts about 7 percent of the lake’s total surface acreage.

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What topics would you like to read about on Balancing the Basin?

Reader feedback has gone a long way in assisting us to know what kind of information is in demand from our stakeholders. We’d like to thank our readers and stakeholders for your contribution in making Balancing the Basin a source for timely and useful information.

We’d like your feedback if there are topics you think need more attention, or if you have recommendations for any topic not yet covered. Our goal is to keep the information here relevant and in demand. To a great extent we depend on your input for this.

If you have a story idea, a suggestion or other feedback, please share it with us in the comments section below. We also welcome suggestions via email at CESAS-CCO@usace.army.mil.

Thanks for reading us!

~Russell Wicke, Corporate Communications Officer

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May rainfall ranks normal

After receiving above-average rainfall in April, the Savannah River reservoirs recorded normal rainfall levels for the month of May. The Hartwell sub-basin received 98.6 percent of normal rainfall for the month, and Thurmond received 101.7 percent of normal.


Nearly half of the month’s rainfall occurred in a single rain event on May 15—dumping 2.7 inches at both Hartwell and Russell and 2.3 inches at Thurmond.

Lake levels remained fairly constant throughout the month. Hartwell Lake remained within 1 foot above full summer pool (660 feet above mean sea level) and Thurmond Lake remained within 1 foot below full pool (330 ft-msl). We continue to target an elevation of about a half foot below full pool at Thurmond while workers perform gate repairs at the dam.

~Tracy Robillard, public affairs specialist


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Corps social media campaign promotes life jackets, offers prizes

This summer the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District is promoting life jacket use with the WEAR IT to Win It campaign on Facebook and Twitter.

Now through Labor Day weekend, the Corps is offering prizes to those who submit photos of themselves or their friends and family wearing a life jacket. WearIt

The public is encouraged to post photos to the Savannah District Facebook page at www.facebook.com/savannahcorps or tweet them using the Savannah District Twitter handle @SavannahCorps and the hashtag #WEARIT.

Every Wednesday, the Savannah District’s Corporate Communications Office will select a photo that was posted during the previous calendar week and award a prize. Photos will be judged based on subject matter, focus, creativity and overall emphasis on water safety.

Prizes include free campsite reservations, picnic shelter reservations and daily passes at Corps-managed facilities at Hartwell Lake and J. Strom Thurmond Lake. Additionally, all winners will receive a free Coast Guard-approved Type IV boat throw cushion and a distress whistle courtesy of Sea Tow Clarks Hill/Thurmond Lake. Winners will be announced and notified via the social networking site on which they submitted the photo.

See complete details about WEAR IT to Win It at: http://balancingthebasin.armylive.dodlive.mil/wearit

“Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have become primary sources of public information, so we are excited about launching this campaign to engage people on the socialsphere,” said Tracy Robillard, social media manager for the Savannah District. “We want people to get creative and have fun—all while sharing a very important water safety message to always wear your life jacket when you are in, on, or near the water.”

For questions about the WEAR IT to Win It! Campaign, contact Tracy Robillard at 912-652-5450 or Tracy.K.Robillard@usace.army.mil.


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Our outlook on summer reservoir levels

While summer doesn’t officially start until June 21, to most of us in the Savannah River Basin, it feels like summer is already here. Temperatures are heating up, the ground is drying, and the trees are lush and green as they enter their peak season.

So what does that mean for reservoir levels? As the summer progresses, we will likely experience a dip in lake levels.

“Even with 100 percent of normal rainfall, the pools rise and fall at certain times of the year,” said Stan Simpson, a hydrologist with the Savannah District. “This is evident in the pool plots when you look at the average elevation line.”

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