Out & about with the LHA

Stan Simpson, water manager with Savannah District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, discusses the 2016 drought with members of the Lake Hartwell Association, Oct. 14.

The Lake Hartwell Association invited us to attend their annual meeting Saturday, Oct. 14, and we had the privilege of delivering a presentation.

The subject matter included an overview of the 2016 drought, the status of the basin’s current conditions and details about the Comprehensive Study’s tentatively selected plan.

We thought the broader audience of Balancing the Basin might be interested in seeing our slides from the meeting, so they are posted here: Lake Hartwell Association slides.

Thanks again for your comments and 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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  • Jerry Clontz

    There are several major flaws in ranking alt 2 ahead of alt 4. First the thought that flood control is better with 2 is a given because whatever option drops the lakes the lowest during a drought automatically provides the greatest flood storage. But this is counter to the whole intention of the studies and ignores the fact that we now have twice the flood storage capacity as originally designed. The 4′ drop with Thurmond has been doubled by the addition of two more lakes to catch the runoff during flood conditions. Second the statement that DO is worse in the harbor with 4 ignores the fact that DO is controlled by ocean tides, not river flows. Inflows from tidal action are about 10X those from the river. Third protecting fresh water supplies has been ignored completely and should be a major factor. If the aquifers dropped as much as the corps allows the lakes to drop in a drought it would be declared an emergency while at the same time it is ignored when the lakes drop

    • Ferris

      Jon Clontz, Comparing the lakes to aquifers is like comparing apples to potatoes. Aquifer depletion can lead to soil collapse and compaction that permanently prevent recovery of full capacity. In addition, aquifers refill at very slow rates compared to the lakes that recover capacity with sustained normal inflows. A rough illustration compares the difference between filling and drinking from a glass with a straw versus a dense sponge. Seems you make claims that sound good without any research.

    • Ferris

      Jerry Clerry, Your ocean DO statement incredulously indicates you think that involved individuals in SC, GA, and federal natural resource agencies too stupid to know the difference between ocean and river DO. You may not understand the science, but they assuredly do.

    • Ferris

      Jon Clontz, You are saying that USACE engineers were too stupid to concurrently plan for both Clark Hill and Hartwell drawdowns. The projects received simultaneously approval in 1944 and Hartwell funding authorization came in 1950, before Clark Hill operation. Records show Clark Hill averaged over 18′ in drawdown season losses before Hartwell began filling during the winter of 1961. The average loss more than quadrupled and the minimum loss of 8.71′ more than doubled the current 4′ drawdown.

    • Ferris

      Jerry Clerry, ALT4 increases by 24% the potential for downstream flooding with higher risks for loss of life and property as demonstrated by catastrophes this summer.

      The Probable Maximum Flood Analysis issued in May 2016 included an assessment of the storm that began Dec 14 2015 with pools just above the 4′ drawdown.

      “The Corps observed that releases from a 25-year storm event will flood portions of Augusta and North Augusta. A larger storm would have resulted in more flooding in those areas.”

  • Johnny Landreth

    Ferris, I would like to know where you went to school. I live on Lake Hartwell. I was here when the lake was started. My grandfather ran a farm on the Seneca river basin that covered several thousand acres that is now covered by Lake Hartwell. This whole area of South Carolina is concerned about the management of our water resources. Our problem with water levels are due to management of our waterways. Our current system of management is totally unresponsive to our changes in our environment.We need a system that responds at least weekly to changing conditions. The corps idea is to respond after the problem has happened. Good management tries to keep problems from occurring. With the information that is available, better decision making should ocurr. These two alternatives do not help the water levels enough.

    • Kim Mike Sanders


  • Mark Welborn

    Ferris has one objective in mind when he posts on this site. That is to keep an unnatural and often unfair water flow in the Lower Savannah River. He does not care what the economic or quality of life costs are to upper basin citizens. He has no interest in sharing the hardships in a fair manner that are related to over use of the water resources in our river system. Unfortunately, those in his camp have the political power and the authority over the COE operation to continue devastating the upper lakes region indefinitely. The only answer is political pressure.

    • Ferris

      Mark, You continue projecting your motives and objective of keeping more water in the unnatural lakes no matter the downstream hardships. Show me where my data are incorrect, because politics cannot change science.
      Thanks for reading!

    • Hello Mark – thanks for your input. But also please consider the following:

      – Are the reservoirs natural as they exist today?
      – When we receive abundant rainfall so that the reservoirs rise, is the water flow downstream in these conditions unnatural?
      – Do the congressional purposes of the reservoirs include quality of life or localized economic stimulation? or stable pools at guide curve?
      – If political pressure existed and succeeded in altering the purposes and operation of the reservoirs in a way that suited your intentions, would the projects be able to sustain their existence?

      ~Russell Wicke

      • Fish

        Lake Hartwell has how many private docks? About 14,000?-
        Lake Hartwell has how many marinas? About 6 including the very large Portman Marina.
        Lake Hartwell has how many privately owned boats? No idea, but lots.
        Low lake levels impact docks, marinas, and boats. (Recreation)
        Lake Thurmond or Clarks Hill is an SRB lake that also has private docks and marinas and boats for recreation.
        The SRB lakes draw how many recreation visitors? About 12 million?
        Lake Hartwell lake levels may not impact regional real estate sales or prices, but any lake property realtor will tell you that low lake levels have a serious negative impact on lake recreation-related real estate sales and prices.
        Lake Hartwell lake levels do not determine Clemson football success…I don’t think. Docks like Tenn (UT) has would probably help, and make the recreation more fun.
        The SRB lakes do nor drive the tides in Savannah, I don’t think.
        The SRB lakes are not the headwaters of the Atlantic Ocean, I don’t think.

    • Mike Killian

      There are currently 11 posts on the blog – 5 are from Ferris telling mostly posters how smart he his and how stupid they are. I have chosen to block him from my view. Click his name, and then the 3 ellipsis by the “follow” button. Once blocked, you no longer have to see his obnoxious, name-calling rants. You’re welcome.

      • Ferris

        Mike, Thanks for reading!

        I did not call anyone “stupid” or any other name in my five previous posts on this topic. I did challenge Jerry Clontz’ post for effectively calling competent people responsible for the SRB “stupid”. I use swapped names for Jerry since he apparently pretends to be two different people who are both in charge of SOLN. I answered Jerry’s repeatedly disproven claims individually for clarity; only the aquifer comparison is new to BtB.

        Sorry your fascination with me apparently inhibits learning about the issues. Show me where my data are incorrect, because I am still learning.

  • Dr. Sigmund Azibo

    I don’t live on the lake, and I don’t fish, water ski, or own a boat. I never go to the lake. But I can understand the frustration of the lake people when we get a good rain and the lake rises 6″ or so, and a few days later it’s back down where it was, or the people who spent thousands of dollars on a dock and now weeds have it covered. However, I like my refrigerator, air conditioner, and tv, and I know it takes x number of gallons of water passing through the three dams on a daily basis to keep the lights on. Whether Hartwell is full or half full, the release rates are prescheduled a week or so in advance, as can be seen on the declarations page. The releases through the dam seem to always be more than the inflow, except after a heavy rain. I honestly don’t think the lake will ever be full or near full ever again on a regular basis. It may fill up briefly like it did a year and a half ago, but normal rainfall will never keep it full consistently. There’s just a whole lot more people living in the area now demanding electricity than there was in the ’50s when the lake was built.

    • Thanks for your input Dr. Azibo. We also understand, and even share the frustration caused by rain deficits. There’s a couple things to keep in mind. If you recently began following the inflow trends its understandable that inflows always seem lower than discharge. For the last 18 months we’ve been dealing with persistent rain deficits. This is typical of droughts in the southeast which can last anywhere between 1 to 4 years. But even within the last 20 years, reservoir levels have been in the normal range more frequently than in moderate-to-severe drought stages. A heavy rain here and there during a drought will mostly be absorbed right into the soil. But once normal rainfall occurs, we will get better purchase from heavy rains.

      The second thing to consider is that our minimum drought releases aren’t determined by power demand. The current rules of the drought plan result in the most significant and measurable impacts occurring to hydropower generation first. In fact, hydropower is also the last purpose to benefit from a return to normal rainfall. During drought levels SEPA must often purchase power on the open market to meet their contracts due to drought flow restrictions. These losses are measured in the tens of millions of dollars, and during certain seasons can be up to a million dollars a week.

      Instead, the minimum discharge rates are set for municipal and industrial needs as well as environmental thresholds downstream. The Savannah River is no longer a natural river. Over the years the dams have enabled populations to grow and infrastructure to develop around the river due to the decrease of flood risk. Industry and municipalities have installed intakes at certain elevations to withdraw water for various purposes. With Georgia and South Carolina permits, they also return treated wastewater to the river, which decreases the water quality. This can put those who depend on clean water (people and wildlife) at risk. Dilution of the water is necessary to mitigate for this this impact. The states base their various water quality permitting on an absolute minimum discharge from Thurmond of 3,600 cubic feet per second (cfs) plus local inflow downstream. Even when we release at this the minimum flow, wastewater concentrations are high and state and federal agencies point out the ecosystem is strained by depleted dissolved oxygen. Likewise, downstream public and private infrastructure have built their intakes with minimum release rates in mind, so regional economies also depend on certain flows.

      I hope this helps bring some clarity to our operations. ~Russell Wicke

  • emac1234

    Good discussion here. Glad to see others aren’t happy about the lake. Personally, I think anyone upset about lake level management should contact their local gvt as well and state and federal representatives.

    As I have said before, in order for the lakes to be full we have to have above average rainfall AT the right time of the year. Even if Irma would have brought the lakes up several feet, the CORPS would send that water downstream before spring. We have to have big rainfalls in the late winter or early spring in order to have any chance of good levels for the summer. Or at least until July4th. I swear after July 4th, I can see the lake drop overnight.

    Obviously, from the lack of real estate sales and investment, the risk is too high. Lake folks need an inside straight, everyone else gets a couple of wild cards. Get used to it, it isn’t going to change any time soon. As Russell has stated, the weather has become more extreme. Why we do not adapt to a changing weather pattern is beyond me. I am sure Ferris will explain it :).

    My daughter skis for Clemson (they just finished #8 in the country, Go Tigers!!) and we have had to move to private lakes for practice as Clarks Hill isn’t safe at the current levels. As Trump would tweet “SAD!”

    • Dr. Sigmund Azibo

      I agree. It’s not going to change anytime soon. For well over a year, the Corps has been releasing just a little over the bare minimum of 3600 cfs from Thurmond. According to Russell and a myriad of other state and federal agencies this is the absolute bare minimum and cannot go any lower under any circumstances. Somewhere, somehow, 3600 cfs HAS to flow into the lake system just to equal the MINIMUM outflow of Thurmond which is mandatory. It seems to me that the Corps people’s hands are tied. They can’t make it rain, and they can’t decrease Thurmond’s outflow. Can elected officials do anything about it? No. The demands on the river basin are a lot greater now than they were in the 1950’s when the lakes were built. That’s why I think that Hartwell will never again be at full pool consistently.