The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers releases water from the Hartwell, Richard B. Russell and J. Strom Thurmond reservoir system to meet upstream and downstream needs – drinking water, industrial uses, utilities, and environmental and natural resource protection. These needs continue year round. Many thousands of people, dozens of industries, and some major utilities depend on a constant supply of water from the reservoirs. By law, downstream environmental needs must also be met. As a water resource management agency, the Corps seeks to balance upstream and downstream needs within the authorized purposes of the reservoirs.
The Savannah District is addressing potential minor adjustments to the drought contingency plan through an Environmental Assessment, and potential large-scale modifications to the entire three-project system through the Savannah River Basin Comprehensive Study. Below are some updates on these topics:
- The Corps began work in November 2011 on an “Interim Drought Plan Environmental Assessment” (EA) that will help evaluate minor adjustments to the 2006 Drought Contingency Plan that could allow the Corps to implement changes during the current drought, depending on the recommended alternative and project conditions.
- The draft EA is scheduled to be released for agency review and public comment in April 2012. The public comment period would last 30 days.
- The drought operation rules from the chosen alternative within the EA would be in effect until the EA is superseded by subsequent evaluations, such as the Savannah River Basin Comprehensive Study.
Savannah River Basin Comprehensive Study:
- The Savannah River Basin Comprehensive Study will examine the extensive interactions of resources, project purposes, and environmental and social aspects of the entire basin. This study is needed to assess and recommend changes to the water management plan that are outside of the Corps’ existing Congressionally-defined authorities. Once fully complete, it will provide data and recommendations for extensive changes in water management and water resource allocations for the entire basin. The study represents a joint endeavor between the Corps and the states of Georgia and South Carolina. Funding is cost-shared between the federal government and the states (non-federal sponsors).
- The first portion of the study was completed in 2006 at a cost of $1.8 million. This portion included a water supply survey, a flow dataset, and a computer model for the Savannah River Basin to identify how changes in operations affect reservoir levels and downstream conditions. This portion also included the 2006 EA that updated the Corps’ 1989 Drought Contingency Plan for the Savannah River Basin in response to the drought of record from 1998-2002. This portion of the Comprehensive Study was crucial in updating the drought plan and reducing outflows earlier in drought at levels 1 and 2 — keeping more water in the reservoirs while still meeting downstream needs.
- The next portion of the Comprehensive Study will focus on updates to the Drought Contingency Plan using data gathered during the last drought of record (2007-2009). It will not result in wide-sweeping changes to pool allocations or outflows; it will only consider improvements and refinements of drought operations. Results of this portion of the study would guide long-term changes to the Corps’ Drought Contingency Plan.
- The Corps continues to work closely with officials from Georgia and South Carolina to resume the Comprehensive Study. The states identified their desire for a more extensive update on the Drought Contingency Plan as their top priority.
- The Corps is working with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GADNR) and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), to develop the scope for the next portion of the Comprehensive Study and obtain the necessary funding to move forward. In addition, The Nature Conservancy has volunteered to help with the Comprehensive Study. Details of The Nature Conservancy’s potential involvement have not been finalized. The cost for this portion of the study is estimated at $1 million, shared 50-50 by the federal government and non-federal sponsors,
- Recently, officials from South Carolina indicated that additional funds for that state’s share of the study may be added to their budget, so they may receive funding to resume work on the study. Georgia has indicated that it stands ready to provide in-kind services for their portion of the study. The federal portion of the funds to pay for the extensive update on the Drought Contingency Plan is available and ready to use.
- Currently, executing this portion of the Comprehensive Study is a high priority in the Savannah District’s civil works program. The Corps is working hard to reach resolution with all parties involved who share the precious natural resources of the Savannah River Basin.