Commander addresses current basin conditions

By Col. Thomas Tickner, Savannah District Commander

Today, Thurmond is at guide curve and Hartwell remains slightly above guide curve. As many of you have observed, streamflows have been decreasing which is typical this time of year. Due to this decline, we have had several requests to reconsider our position on the winter drawdown of both Hartwell and Thurmond Lakes. It remains our position that long term drought projections and forecasts for winter precipitation currently do not warrant a departure from our Drought Management Plan. Our drought plan, which was recently revised September 2012, is designed to handle dry periods should conditions worsen. Therefore, we intend to proceed with the winter drawdown associated with our Water Control Manual.

If you’re not already aware, we started investigating whether a smaller (or larger) drawdown of the pools is necessary. In October, we started modeling to update the probable maximum flood for the reservoirs. This output, in turn, will be used to see whether our current level of flood storage is adequate, or whether more or less storage is needed. The results of this flood storage analysis will not immediately invoke change. However, it may be a catalyst for considering a reallocation of storage. The results could reveal that a four foot drawdown is not necessary. On the other hand, it may reveal that a lower summer pool may be warranted to fully accommodate the amount of flood storage needed.

I hope this helps provide more clarity on how we are addressing the deficits in the last several weeks.

Thanks for visiting Balancing the Basin, and I welcome your feedback.

 

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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  • UPDATE: Although this time of year is associated with dry conditions, we recently noted there are indications that the next two weeks may yield some increased precipitation due to an abrupt shift in the Arctic Oscillation. ~Russell

  • Lake Mudwell

    Quite possibly one of the worst articles I’ve read on this site. Boiling this down, it clearly says:
    1. We’ve received requests from the public which we will choose to ignore.
    2. Our current plan is flawless.
    3. Since you continue whining, We decided to use $240,000 of your taxpayer dollars on a study to justify releasing more water during the summer periods too.

    Sincerely,
    Your dictator with no public accountability

  • jay

    A lower summer pool? Surely you realize that there are many of us who are on shallow areas of the lake. We are only able to fully enjoy our very expensive lake properties when the lake is at full pool, which has been 660 on Heartwell since the lake was constructed constructed. The lake has been below guide curve levels for many months out of the last few years & as a result, many of us have been unable to enjoy our investments. Now that a RARE rain event filled the lake & caused MINOR flooding, you are actually considering lowering the already seldom seen summer full pool? Because of one week month? This is ridiculous & unacceptable! The updates we the stakeholders are receiving are worded in such a way Possum’s makes me think the decision has already been made to lower lake levels & the Corp is trying to get us used to the idea. I van imagine a sonario where the Corp posts something like “the study YOU STAKEHOLDERS requested about lessening the winter drawdown UNEXPECTEDLY TO US, showed that we need to lower the summer pool, oops!” Which would conveniently let the Corp & others who have mismanaged the lakes off the hook for being unable to keep water in the lakes. You would actually leave countless property owners high and dry and in financial ruin so you can save face? I have my life savings invested in this lake and I’m not alone. Instead of living up to your responsibility to keep the lake healthy in these times of changing weather pattern… you guys seem to be content allowing the lake to be over taxed buy corprate useage. Because you are unable to keep the lake full at current full pool, you will simply lower full pool to a level you can maintain. It sounds criminal to me. You guys work for we the people, not big business or politicians trying to line their own pockets. The Corp should remember that.

  • Tom Miller

    Thanks for your update. This is the first time I have ever heard of a potential lower full pool in the summer. Thousands of owners adjacent to the lake have spent their own money to install rip rap to protect the shoreline of the public resource. A lower full pool elevation would greatly reduce the reason for the rip rap being installed and would also adversely affect the beauty of the lake. I certainly hope that a decision like that will never be made.

  • Ron

    Simply put, this is pitiful. The latest article reminds me of what is wrong with our entire government, arrogance. These guide curves were generated decades ago and are simply guides not requirements. Technology has allowed us to know when we will have dry and wet periods well in advance. So the Corps should have the ability to make adjustments to maintain the basin as full as possible year- round. They choose to keep the water low to provide them more margin during those wet periods so they never have to answer questions about minor flooding.

    The best thing we can do as property owners is to move to other lakes that are not managed by the Corps.

  • In an effort to provide some clarity, the possibility that this study (which is being conducted by a third party not responsible for Savannah River Basin management) would suggest a lower summer pool is only speculation at this point. We have equally acknowledged the study may find it safe to reduce or eliminate the winter draw down — and this possibility was the motivation behind the study in the first place. Put simply, we don’t know what the study will find, but are committed to let the science behind the study speak for itself, whatever it reveals.

    To re-emphasize what Col. Tickner wrote, no matter what the study finds, the results won’t immediately effect a change in operations. Ultimately Congress has the final authority in matters like this – not the results of a study.

    I hope this helps alleviate concerns.

    ~Russell Wicke, Corporate Communications Officer

    • jay

      Mr. Wickie, your update only reinforces my earlier post. “The study is being conducted by a third party, not us” and “The reason for the study is property owners complaining about the winter draw down”. Oh and “we only speculate the study will find there is a need for a lower summer lake level” All of these things releave the Corp of accountability. The reason people want to eliminate the winter draw down is that we are desperate to keep water in the lake since the Corp cannot or will not. It is a desparate plea for you to follow the current guide curve. But rather than listen and act… you blow smoke about another study which will certainly show that you should lower the lake and sell as much water and power as you can. And “hey congress, here is the study showing the need, go ahead and sign this into law for us”.” And you whiny property owners, you asked for it!”……… A lower summer pool? Surely you realize that there are many of us who are on shallow areas of the lake. We are only able to fully enjoy our very expensive lake properties when the lake is at full pool, which has been 660 on Heartwell since the lake was constructed constructed. The lake has been below guide curve levels for many months out of the last few years & as a result, many of us have been unable to enjoy our investments. Now that a RARE rain event filled the lake & caused MINOR flooding, you are actually considering lowering the already seldom seen summer full pool? Because of one wet month? This is ridiculous & unacceptable! The updates we the stakeholders are receiving are worded in such a way that makes me think the decision has already been made to lower lake levels & the Corp is trying to get us used to the idea. I van imagine a sonario where the Corp posts something like “the study YOU STAKEHOLDERS requested about lessening the winter drawdown UNEXPECTEDLY TO US, showed that we need to lower the summer pool, oops!” Which would conveniently let the Corp & others who have mismanaged the lakes off the hook for being unable to keep water in the lakes. You would actually leave countless property owners high and dry and in financial ruin so you can save face? I have my life savings invested in this lake and I’m not alone. Instead of living up to your responsibility to keep the lake healthy in these times of changing weather pattern… you guys seem to be content allowing the lake to be over taxed buy corprate useage. Because you are unable to keep the lake full at current full pool, you will simply lower full pool to a level you can maintain. It sounds criminal to me. You guys work for we the people, not big business or politicians trying to line their own pockets. The Corp should remember that.

      • Jay – the fact that a third party is conducting a study means we are not in a position to influence the outcome of the study. That is why I mentioned it. It does nothing to expunge accountability on our part, but serves to make us more accountable. And, a study is the *only* legal method by which change can be achieved. Either the Corps can arrange and pay for it, or private citizens can attempt to organize and fund it. Since success of the latter is extremely unlikely, not to mention disagreeable to stakeholders because of the cost, we have stepped in to arrange for it. I’m not sure how you interpret this as a bad deal. ~Russell

        • jay

          You guys really truly think the public is stupid. A third party study commissioned by the Corp is undoubtedly going to conclude whatever the Corp wants. Surely you’ve heard the term “bought and paid for”…. Once the study finds that full pool should be 20 feet less than the current level you struggle to maintain, you will scream to congress and stakeholders “it’s not our findings… it’s scientifically where the lake should be to best suit changing useage & weather patterns”. Then it’s business as usual…. over tax the lakes!

  • George

    Lets have a vote on it !

  • John Stokes

    Col. Tickner: I appreciate your continuing efforts to communicate with basin constituents. I hope the complainers and moaners that seem to jump on every Balancing the Basin post do not discourage. I find your posts informative and useful. Keep up the good work.

  • bobby

    I’ve had property on Thurman/Clark Hill for six years and have seen full pool twice. Double-digits below full pool has been the norm. My fear has always been that the Corps can do whatever it wants with these drawdowns and water releases because, unlike Lanier, there aren’t the people here to raise enough of a ruckus to make them accountable. I’m glad to see that the Corps is at least attempting to communicate — and there are folks holding their feet to the fire!

  • Louis Fernandez

    I like how Russell steps up and blames Congress. A discussion following a recent political Caucus revealed that our elected Representatives are no more pleased with the lake levels than we are, but it is not likely that the US congress will take time to micromanage each lake for the Corp. the guidelines have been in place for years in the form of a “Rule Curve” but this has been overburdened by so many factors that have “been allowed” to take priority. The final analysis of our Representatives was that the only true control they have over the Corp now is to defund them. This would be an unlikely, bold move, so I guess we just keep blaming someone else for poor management. By-the-way, it would be great to allow private management of the boat ramps that the Corp can no longer manage. In the public sector, we are not allowed to abandon and neglect property in public view. This is called “blight” and there are ordinances against it. I am sure that is another “rule” that the Corp cannot follow for some poor reason.

    • Louis: this has nothing to do with blame. The Corps is doing exactly what it has been charged to do and does not seek pardon. Congress commissioned the Corps to construct and operate these reservoirs for a specific objective(s) that achieve national interests. The reservoirs do not exist as an end in themselves – they serve purposes beyond mere existence. The guide curve was established to define an ideal condition best suited for meeting the purposes. It is not, itself, a purpose. ~Russell

      • Louis Fernandez

        If these specific objectives and national interests have no room for variation and are preordained by a Congressional charge, then why was there ever any discussion of reducing the winter drawdown? Congress has not voted to change the management of the lake levels, yet there have been changes to the drought management by the Corp. These changes were based on dramatic low levels in the basin and considerations of downstream flow needs. I am just pointing out an obvious divergence in the argument when we say ” Ultimately Congress has the final authority in matters like this – not the results of a study.”

        • That is a legitimate question, Louis. There are some areas
          where we (the Corps) have the flexibility to make decisions on how to operate the basin. The water control manual doesn’t (and can’t) dictate every move in every circumstance, and therefore it leaves some room for our engineers to make professional judgments based on conditions and circumstances. So, some decisions are made within the spectrum of the operating manual. The Corps also has authority to make temporary deviations from the water manual (when we have concurrence from state and federal partners). But these deviations must be based on abnormal or unpredictable conditions, cannot constitute a norm and usually require a request up the chain of command for approval. That is, deviation decisions are made above the Savannah District level, but we can request and justify them. Finally, there are actions that take the movement of Congress, and these tend to be areas where Congress set the initial precedent. Examples of these actions include changing the established flood allocation,
          changing guide curve, changing the purposes of the reservoirs, etc. We can request the change, but we would be asked to provide scientific evidence to demonstrate the environmental and economic impacts, cost to the U.S. Treasury, value to the nation and risks. Hence, the studies. Hope this helps clarify things. ~Russell

          • Louis Fernandez

            Thanks for the reply. Also wanted to share the latest Drought Monitor Data since we had the very wet summer that we discussed before. It seems that we have deviated significantly from the NOAA prediction of above average rainfall. . We are currently in “abnormally dry” conditions throughout the Savannah River Basin. We hope this trend does not continue into the Spring when the upstream reservoirs start holding more water for their summer pool levels. We certainly know, all too well, how that turns out for lakes Hartwell and Thurmond. “Abnormally Dry” seems like a better time to start a plan rather than moderate to severe drought. I am aware that we could have an average Spring rainfall, but it would seem prudent to factor what we Actually HAVE as much as what we MIGHT HAVE. These are, of course, not novel ideas. Just some wishful thoughts.

  • r williams

    what was the result of this study

    • Thanks for the question! I responded to your question in an earlier post, but will paste it here for convenience: The most recent update on this study was posted last November, (2014) here: . In that post you’ll notice that the study was delayed an additional six months, which calculates an estimated completion date at around April or May 2015. A little late, the study was concluded in July 2015. We now have the complete data set and the completed model. We’re working on running simulations and drafting a report on impacts. We intend to post a summary of the findings of this study in
      the coming weeks. As a reminder, the results of this study will have no impact on operations – they will only determine what will be included for consideration in the Comprehensive Study. I hope this helps. ~Russell Wicke