The Significance of Water Quality in the SRB

By Tracy Robillard, Public Affairs Specialist

Editor’s Note: This article is the second in a two-part series that discusses the importance of water supply and water quality as congressional purposes for the Savannah River Basin dams and reservoirs.

We often hear that water quality is a purpose of the reservoirs, but what exactly is meant by the term? Water quality means ensuring water in the basin meets environmental standards established by Georgia and South Carolina state agencies. These standards set a range of acceptable levels for dissolved oxygen, salinity, pH levels, and other factors.

“The water quality standards are the foundation of water quality protection programs in the state,” said Carol Roberts, watershed manager for the Savannah and Salkehatchie rivers with the South Carolina Department of Health and Control (DHEC). “The standards help protect freshwater uses such as public water supply, recreation, fishing, aquatic life, industrial, and navigational purposes.”

Industrial use of the river plays a major role in water quality. Municipalities and industries throughout the basin discharge treated waste water into the river in compliance with state permitting requirements. This requires a continuous flow of water from the reservoirs to assimilate or dilute the wastewater. As the saying goes, “the solution to pollution is dilution.” This process becomes even more critical during drought and the summer months when water temperatures rise and dissolved oxygen levels naturally drop.

One of many industrial users of the Savannah River Basin is Plant Vogtle, a nuclear power facility in Richmond County, Ga. Pictured here is construction on units 3 and 4 in the foreground with units 1 and 2 in the background. Photo by Georgia Power, August 2012.

One of many industrial users of the Savannah River Basin is Plant Vogtle, a nuclear power facility in Richmond County, Ga. Pictured here is construction on units 3 and 4 in the foreground with units 1 and 2 in the background. Photo by Georgia Power, August 2012.

Georgia and South Carolina base their permitting rules on the established minimum outflows in the Corps of Engineers’ Savannah River Basin drought plan. This helps ensure clean water for all basin users in both states.

Similarly, the states plan and construct water intakes and other infrastructure based on water levels that occur from minimum outflows from the basin’s federal reservoirs—lakes Hartwell, Richard B. Russell, and J. Strom Thurmond. Currently, the minimum operating outflow from the basin during severe drought is 3,600 cubic feet per second (3,100 cfs November through January).

The Clean Water Act is the basic federal law designed to control water pollution in U.S. waters. It prohibits the discharge of any pollutant into U.S. waters unless permitted under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) currently has 171 active NPDES permits for the discharge of wastewater into the basin, according to Ted Jackson, program manager for EPD’s drinking water program. On the other side of the river, South Carolina DHEC has 48, Roberts said.

“Decades of human development along the river, including industrial developments, have changed the natural landscape of the river,” said Melissa Wolf, a Corps of Engineers natural resource specialist. “Therefore, it’s critical for the Corps to coordinate with the state and federal natural resource agencies to maintain the long-term health of the river and its delicate ecosystems.”

We welcome your questions and comments. Thanks for reading us!

 

About US Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District oversees a multi-million dollar military construction program at 11 Army and Air Force installations in Georgia and North Carolina. We also manage water resources across the Coastal Georgia region, including maintenance dredging of the Savannah and Brunswick harbors; operation of three hydroelectric dams and reservoirs along the upper Savannah River; and administration of an extensive stream and wetland permitting and mitigation program within the state of Georgia. Follow us on Twitter @SavannahCorps and on Facebook.com/SavannahCorps
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  • Terry

    Great article, Tracy. Thank you.

    Is temperature considered as a factor in setting water quality standards? I can envision fairly large variation in temperature due to natural seasonal changes and possibly substantial amounts of waste heat sent to the river. If considered, where and how?

    • Terry: Thanks for your question. Yes, temperature is considered in water quality standards. The temperature of the river water affects the total maximum daily load that the river can handle. During the hot summer months when temperatures rise, dissolved oxygen levels drop. This is why minimum outflows are specified during drought conditions. Likewise, winter water temperatures are cooler and dissolved oxygen levels are higher allowing for releases as low as 3,100 cubic feet per second during drought conditions. It’s also important to note that the states of Georgia and South Carolina set the water quality standards and regulate industry use of the river. ~Tracy R.