Closing the book on Irma

Like many folks throughout the Caribbean and southeastern U.S., I’m ready to put Hurricane Irma behind me.

Contrary to the initial projections, the East Coast was spared the bulk of her wrath. However, that fact has provided little comfort to the Savannah River Basin, which is still recovering from nearly two years of drought, and for its residents, who are probably still yearning for the rainfall that could have been.

And while it’s easy to get caught up in that “what if” cycle, consider what Irma did bring.

For the month of September, Hartwell collected 3.75 inches (compared to its 4.68 average), while Thurmond received 3.24 inches (versus its 3.52-inch average).

That means Irma delivered almost 80 percent of Thurmond’s take (2.5 inches) and more than half of Hartwell’s (just over 2 inches).

Without Irma, last month could have easily looked a lot like September 2016 (conversely), where Hartwell received a paltry 0.77 inches and Thurmond, 1.51 inches.

Looking ahead, fall is here and as the temperatures decrease, there’s a better chance things will start looking up for the Savannah River basin.

As temperatures drop, evaporation and transpiration will begin to decrease, too. That means a greater percentage of the rain we do receive will reach the reservoirs.

I’m not hoping for any more hurricanes, but I’ll still take any rain we can get.

~ Jeremy S. Buddemeier, Corporate Communication Office

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
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  • Johnny Landreth

    It is amazing that we received over 4 inches of rain when the remnants of the storm came through and the lake has dropped another 2 feet since then. It seems to me the corps is letting rain off in anticipation of rain instead of waiting to see if we actually receive the predicted rain. The lake is down seven feet now, Please allow the rain to accumulate in our reservoirs. We could handle seventeen inches of rain at one time before the lake would fill up. The corps ought to be ashamed of its management of Lake Hartwell and Lake Thurmond( Clarks Hill). Well, we are supposed to receive several inches of rain Sunday through Wednesday. The Lake levels will probably drop by another foot or two. Please, Corps of Engineers, Allow our lakes to recover. Please don’t let our lakes down in anticipation of rain we may not receive. The Corps. of Engineers nationwide has a very poor record of managing our water resources. In Houston, for instance, the reservoirs were full before the Hurricane approached. All of the weather forecast predicted over 20 inches of rain. Even though, the lakes were full, The Corps. did not release any water in advance of the storm. Again total mismanagement of our water resources.
    Please, Corps. of Engineers, Our Lake Hartwell is critically Low. Please allow this incoming water to accumulate in our Lakes. I would love to write comments complementing you for a job well done. We need change in management theory right now!!!

    • Ferris

      Since you disparage USACE by saying they “ought to be ashamed”, please provide a verifiable reference showing why your 4″ for the event is correct rather than the USACE topic numbers of just over 2″ for Hartwell and 2.5″ for Thurmond. USACE numbers align with the Sep 9-23 precipitation graph (event including remnants) posted to the previous topic, with almost all of the balance coming before the event. Even the monthly totals of 3.75″ for Hartwell and 3.24″ for Thurmond fall below your claim. In addition, Thurmond releases averaged 3,940 cfs from Sep 1-12, contradicting your accusation that USACE increased releases in anticipation of rainfall. Hartwell releases increased AFTER the event, presumably to maintain the same relative lake balance, but Hartwell releases do not count as releases from the system.

      Lake levels keep falling because inflows remain well below mandatory Thurmond releases, and Sep has the lowest historical average inflows of any other month. Declaration inflows indicate only 2,100 cfs flowed into the reservoirs in Sep compared to 4,000 cfs released from Thurmond. Only decreasing required Thurmond releases will keep more water in the lakes.

      Because of the USACE sponsored 2012 Drought Study, Thurmond Drought Level 2 releases drop to 3,600 cfs during the less critical months of Nov – Jan. As Jeremy explained in the topic, expect inflows to increase somewhat even if they remain below average. Unfortunately, the Oct 4 Projection shows continuing very low inflows likely through at least the middle of Dec, with lakes falling another 1.7′ by Dec 16. Because Projections illustrate a trend relying partially on NOAA outlooks, there is some hope for improvement if NOAA outlooks change.

      • emac1234

        Where you stand is related to where you sit. Ferris sits downstream. That is fine, and if I was downstream, and never had to worry about low water or drought conditions no matter what mother nature handed me, I would fight like crazy to keep that deal.
        The corps drought plan is designed to give many other people water before recreation UNLESS you get the proper rainfall at the proper time. They will tell you they are open to public comment, but only after they have reached their conclusion. Sometimes we get lucky, but most of the time we lose.

        • Ferris

          Ernest Mccallum, Informed decisions require understanding the data, and math does not care where one “sits”. Do you disagree with my statement that only decreasing required Thurmond releases will keep more water in the lakes?

          • emac1234

            Of course. Letting less water out than comes in and the pool will rise. Thurmond is the end of the line. Output at Hartwell/russell dont matter, so long as the lakes are kept balanced.
            I think where we disagree is with the “science” behind release rates. You say that the Corps has lowered release rates to 3600, but that is only from Nov-Dec. That hardly helps when we need it most. Bottom line is that we need to let less water out sooner when levels begin to drop. You quote a bunch of gvt agencies as the “gospel” for lake control. Most of us dont trust the gvt to look out for us. Their track record is not very good.

          • Ferris

            It seems you are between the proverbial rock and hard place since you need the support of federal and state agencies to accomplish change. I discussed why I think congress cannot help on the Sep 10 topic.

            What strikes me about your post is that regardless of the science, “If was downstream, and never had to worry about low water or drought conditions no matter what mother nature handed , would fight like crazy to keep that deal”.

          • emac1234

            You support the science because it fits your agenda. I assume you would be thrilled weed whacking around your dock and watching trees grow in the lake, all while you keep the faith in “CORPS science”. I feel that the issue will get the attention it deserves when we have another year like we did back in 2007/2008, or 2002, or 1989. I hope the CORPS can avoid another one of those years, but I don’t have much faith in them. It is a shame that our elected officials are not more responsive to those that they represent.

          • LittleBigPaw

            Don’t waste your breath. Ferris has made hundreds of positive/supportive comments (not one negative) about the Corp, smells awful fishy.

          • Ferris

            Ernest Mccallum, you continue confirming that selfish interests motivate your posts, not scientific data. ” support the science because it fits agenda”.

            The science emanates from natural resource agencies, not USACE. The military overrules legislatures and other agencies regarding domestic issues in dictatorships, not our government.

            You have produced no evidence to show the natural resource agency data is incorrect, while they continue research to see how much more they can lower release rates without irreparable harm.

            I have posted in the past, if the science shows lower releases viable, then so be it.

            I do not have much faith in the ability of USACE to change the weather either!?!

            Elected officials are also part of the government, and they historically back off after learning about downstream stakeholder issues.

          • Ferris

            LittleBigPaw, Do not waste your breath; you discourteously delete all of your posts after a short time, which is why I quote you verbatim. “Smells awful fishy.”

          • Ferris

            LittleBigPaw, Do not waste your breath; you discourteously delete all of your posts after a short time, which is why I quote you verbatim. “Smells awful fishy.”

    • Mike Killian

      Johnny, everyone I know upstream are in agreement with you. The Corps have a mandate but there does need to be an honest assessment of the policies and procedures. Pay no mind to poor Ferris. He thinks he works for the corps

      • Ferris

        You continue claiming to want an honest discussion on policies and procedures, which clearly categorizes past discussions as dishonest. Do you not understand that your statement disparages the integrity of everyone involved in past discussions, including GA DNR, GA DNR Coastal Resources Division, SC DNR, SC Department of Health and Environmental Control, US Fish and Wildlife Services, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, and US EPA? You will need the support of all these agencies to accomplish any change. Have you even taken time to read comments and responses to previous preliminary drought plan assessments? Did you send comments for the 2017 draft drought plan?

    • Pete Wood

      I’m growing frustrated as well. After Irma I expected to see levels go up and the went down as evident by driving by parksville every other week…

  • Tom Deus

    Jeremy and Ferris as someone who lived 50 feet off the Thurmond for 5 years I saw every condition of the lake level from extreme drought to massive flooding as well as several body recovering missions, they are never rescues. I will say after repeated posts that you both have the patience of a saint. It may pay to remind everyone that hadn’t Corp build the dams their home values would resemble 1948 as there is literally nothing around the lake to offer employment to potential buyers short of Evans. I don’t believe Hartwell is much better.
    Also the Corps has on Lake Thurmond alone, 2 leased Marinas, 5 day use areas with many beaches and 7 campgrounds as well as numerous state and county parks so if they claim you are mismanaging recreation you would be working against your own interests. As I see it there are only two who have control over the lake levels, God and Mother Nature. Keep up the good work not everyone believes the many unsupported statistics offered to disparage the Corps.

    • Ferris

      Tom, Happy to see that you still follow this blog! You surely enjoyed, as I did, the CSS Georgia and Eclipse diversions from lake level bickering. Jeremy’s style and enthusiasm complements Russell’s top notch communication team, and I find his article selections on the Facebook page informative and interesting.

      Thank you for including drowning recovery since low lake levels present unseen hazards. I spent a great deal of time on lakes, oceans, and rivers in my “younger” days, and observed that too many wait for a personal loss before taking safety seriously. Thankfully, my BSA Troop etched safety in my mind or I could have been another victim. Ferris

    • Mr. Deus,
      Thanks for the kind words and for offering your perspective. We do our best to strike a balance between various interests while ensuring everyone has access — even for the fish, who aren’t always as vocal :). ~ Jeremy Buddemeier

  • General response to clear the air re: Irma & Sept. rainfall update:

    Multiple comments to the original post call into question the authority of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to impose changes to the drought plan. As we have said in this venue and in dozens of public meetings over the years, our ability to make changes to the drought plan or the water manual is severely limited – by law and by good sense.

    Since the Thurmond Dam bisected the basin in 1954 we have faced the situation of balancing the needs of the users above the dam and those below. Besides the laws Congress passed that guide us, balancing a healthy river below Thurmond Dam seems as important as keeping healthy reservoirs. Municipalities draw water from the reservoirs upstream to drink. Others draw water from the river downstream to drink. Industry and recreation, both so vital to the regional economy, depend on a good river and good reservoirs. Good sense dictates we can’t simply focus on one part of overall recreation (maintaining private boat docks) while ignoring all the uses of the water.

    We understand the frustration those living next to the reservoirs’ shores feel. We hate seeing the “brown line” around the shore. We know this puts stress on users and residents, plus we know it puts stress on the river system itself. At the same time, we are the organization tasked to oversee all aspects of the river basin, from the headwaters to the Atlantic Ocean. Keeping a healthy river while maintaining healthy and useful reservoirs is not an easy task. But balancing the two makes good sense.

    And federal law plays an equal part.

    Federal laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act (yes, we have some threatened species in the basin) require us to act in certain ways. We must follow certain, specified steps using reliable science in order to propose changes to our plans. Public involvement, particularly from state and local agencies or governments, plays an important role in our approval process. We don’t enter a study with a predetermined conclusion. We let the science take us to the right conclusion.

    That being said, we know the direction studies will take us. We have spent decades of studying the basin. We have expertise in biological, ecological, hydrological and electrical science. We’ve gathered information on the social and economic characteristics of the basin. Therefore, we have a very good idea where we will end up. We never know exactly, but we have a very good idea.

    In following the law, we gain the important insight and cooperation of others who have as much concern for the well-being of the entire basin as we have. We see the outside of the jigsaw puzzle box, not just individual pieces scattered about.

    We’ll not give up seeking ways to make the basin better for everyone and we’ll not stop listening to those living and working in the basin for new ideas.

    ~ Billy Birdwell, Corporate Communications Office