No tricks, October rainfall was a treat

Though not normally known as a rainy month, October brought some much-needed precipitation to the basin. Hartwell and Russell registered 7.7 and 5.7 inches compared to their 4.1- and 3.2-inch averages, respectively.

These numbers ranked in the top 10 for October observed rainfall going all the way back to 1948. Thurmond received 4 inches, which was nearly an inch above its average.

Coming off of a fantastic month of rainfall, we often get a deluge of questions like the one tweeted by @Hutt1 yesterday:@Hutt1 is correct – Hartwell is still 7 feet below guide curve but the cause, as we often point out, rests with below-average runoff. Despite the great rainfall at Hartwell, runoff is still below average – an increase to 80 percent of normal. Thurmond runoff remains at 50 percent of normal.

The rainfall we received last month was in the top 10 for the most those sub-basins have received in October, but the cumulative amount we received for entire year in 2016, which plunged the basin into the drought, was one of the worst in the past 70 years.

In a sense, we’re comparing excellent rainfall in one month with a year of significant deficits.

Rainfall has improved in 2017. Thus far we’ve had six months with above average rain at each of the sub-basins, but the cumulative amount is still only about 4-5 inches more than average. (Compare this to the fact that in 2016 Hartwell experienced a 23-inch deficit on its 59-inch average.)

To overcome the extreme level of a rain deficit 2016 created, we’ll need many more October-like months.

And on that front, unfortunately, the outlook is questionable.

NOAA’s recent projection is for a La Niña winter, which gives the Southeast an above average chance for being warmer and drier than average. That’s not to say we won’t recover, it’s just that one of the conditions (ocean temperature) doesn’t favor that outcome.

Rest assured, recovery from the drought is inevitable. For now, it’s just a matter of time.

~Jeremy S. Buddemeier, Corporate Communications 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 Facebook.com/SavannahCorps
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  • Ferris

    Jeremy, I enjoyed the technical aspect and great presentation of your topic! Oh yeah, thank you for not taunting La Niña!

    Readers occasionally question the SRB drought status. The inflow rate per inch of rainfall ran just 2/3 of average and confirmed the long term SRB hydrological drought, but the US Drought Monitor (USDM) does not show us in drought. USDM drought maps add a disclaimer. “The Drought Monitor focuses on broad-scale conditions. Local conditions may vary.” Of the many large lakes in GA & SC, only Thurmond shows on the USDM maps, confirming that lakes and surrounding areas are “local conditions”.

  • Jerry Clontz

    the problem is not runoff or amount of rain. the problem is poor management of the rain we did get.

  • Hartwell Cove Dweller

    Those of us who live in coves are impacted the most. It’s been over a year since we could keep our boat at our dock. For over 50 years, leaves and debris, along with tons of soil have washed into the lake. Hartwell lake is much shallower; not that it matters if you dock is in 40′ of water, but when you have just 7-8′ in depth. My question is this: is it time, after decades of erosion, that the corps revisit and relax the rules on dredging?

    • Thanks for your comment. In answer to your question, part of the dredging policy is subject to state permits. We have a Programmatic General Permit for the Georgia side of the lake where authority has been delegated from GA EPD and Corps Regulatory to the lake office to issue dredge permits for adjacent property owners who want to remove silt material from the lake bottom. Upon request the local office will meet the adjacent property owner on site to evaluate ingress/egress on public property, amount of silt in cove and area conditions. The local office can issue a dredge permit for Georgia residents to remove up to 5,000 cubic yards of silt and up to 20,000 cubic yards for a consolidated request (multiple neighbors dredging the entire cove). South Carolina residents must obtain a Regulatory permit for dredging from our Columbia or Charleston Regulatory offices. This process can take up to 1 year to be approved.

      If you have further questions about dredging and the Corps policy, the Hartwell project office can assist with questions. They can be reached at 706-856-0300. I hope this helps. ~Russell Wicke

      • Hartwell Cove Dweller

        Therein lies the problem. A different set of rules on a federal lake. At the very least, SC should be as easy as GA, and GA could be a lot easier. It’s been over a half of century, of course the lake has filled up with silt.

  • Don’t understand

    We can’t recover when you let out on weekends and more than required. What is the reason for the high level’s of output???? 6,000 and 8,000 GPM’s…That way over

    • Thanks for your question – it is a common one. Due to drought conditions we are currently releasing water at the minimum allowable level, which is 4,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). Beginning next week we will lower that rate even further to 3,600 cfs, in accordance with winter release allowances.

      We must release water from the reservoirs to meet downstream needs – drinking water, industrial uses, utilities, and the environment. These needs continue year round. The Savannah River supplies water to two of Georgia’s major metropolitan areas—Savannah and Augusta. It’s also a source of drinking water for the cities of Beaufort and Hilton Head, S.C., and other municipalities. More than 1.5 million people rely on the river and its reservoirs for drinking water.

      Also, municipalities and industries discharge treated waste water into the river in compliance with state permitting requirements. This requires a continuous flow of water to dilute the wastewater.

      Fish and wildlife protection is also an authorized purpose of the reservoirs. The Savannah River Basin is home to thousands of species of fish, plants, and other wildlife—some of which are endangered. Near the end of the system lies Department of the Interior’s Savannah National Wildlife Refuge—one of the largest in the area at more than 29,000 acres. The refuge depends on freshwater flows to sustain a wide array of wildlife. Thousands of species of birds have been spotted there.

      As a water resource management agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must balance the needs of all users of the basin and support its authorized purposes. I hope this helps answer your question. ~Russell Wicke

      • Mark Welborn

        Well, while all of these lower basin needs and desires are given highest priority, upper basin folks pay an unfair price for supplying them with an unnatural water flow year round. In regards to the environmental concerns, the animal and plant life survived thousands of years of drought cycles and lower water flow just fine. As for as the lower basin population requiring the upper region to serve as their reservoirs no matter the economic or quality of life cost, perhaps it’s time to consider some economic renumeration by those municipalities for the millions of dollars in reduced property values and economic hardships faced by businesses in the upper lakes region. For people living in NW SC and NE Ga. the red mud holes and overgrown coves are economic and environmental detriments that should be alleviated or compensated.

        • Hello Mark – I understand the disappointment in the low reservoir levels. But understand that the environment and habitats downstream survived with drought flows before the dams because the river was not leveraged by industry and municipalities. Because treated waste water is returned to the river, it must be diluted to prevent significant environmental damage. ~Russell Wicke

      • Elisabeth White Putnam

        Run OFF is just another typical excuse by The Corps!!!! I live on the Savannah River just below the Thurmond Dam & own property on Thurmond! The Corps should be sued over the site of Lake Thurmond & Hartwell, absolutely ridiculous!!! There is no GOOD reason what so ever that these lakes should be in this state! The proof is in the pudding, stated in your own articles month after month! The river has been over flowing the last few months because your releasing all of OUR WATER! Just drove back from Atlanta today & the site of Oconee made me sick! Oconee is flowing out of it’s banks!! The Corps must change THEIR Management Plan, its not working, but I promise one day we the people are going to make Our Lakes Great Again!

        • Ferris

          I was very interested to read that the Savannah River has been overflowing the last few months because we have not experienced that below Augusta. Peaking releases may fill the river between Thurmond Dam and Steven’s Creek Dam, but reregulation all the way through the New Savannah Bluff Lock & Dam obscures average flow rates. These reregulation dams generate power more efficiently when kept full, so they release only enough water through generation to hold the next Thurmond peaking releases.

          The 28 day average for the Savannah River at Augusta, USGS Gauge 02197000, has been in the 5-24 percentile class range since early Feb. In other words, 75% to 95% of the time Savannah River at Augusta flow rates averaged higher than since early Feb.

  • Johnny Landreth

    Well, we got 6 inches of rain on the Seneca river. I watched the tributaries from I-85 to Lake Keowee and every tributary was over their normal banks. There was water that disappeared in low places, but everywhere else I saw new rivers of runoff. Keowee let off tremendous amounts of water, so the corps increased the flow again. We are over 6 inches ahead of normal rain for the year. but are facing another 2 feet of draw down. We must begin writing our congressmen and our president and call for an actual audit of our lake management. Our properties are just as important as any other lake properties on the savannah basin. The corps will continue to be unresponsive to our concerns until they realize that we are the government. It is time to form an association for all the lakes on the savannah basin and flex our muscles. Numbers will make a difference. We need to include everyone in the area that use our lakes. Everyone in the upstate is concerned about the management of our water resources. The federal government is already upset with the corps failure to manage properly. Let’s put cameras at the discharges and have our own hydrologists tell us how many gallons are flowing. We need to reduce the flow on a thirty day adjustment based on actual rain. If sewage was the problem, Hartwell is the biggest poop pool of them all. Sewage breakdown is based on spreading the sewage over large areas. If our lakes are kept at a higher level the breakdown of bacteria would be increased and spread out. If the water levels are not brought up all of our main channels will have to be dredged. The channel depths are decreasing at an alarming rate. Every organization needs auditing to keep people telling the truth. I don’t know whether we are being lied to or not, but an audit by outside engineers would either confirm our suspicions or prove us wrong. Let’s get involved now before it gets any worse. Our situation will not improve unless we involve all our friends and neighbors. Our lake businesses are suffering. The lake property owners are suffering. Our friends and tourists are suffering. Let’s do something now before the situation worsens.

    • FLETCH

      I couldn’t stop laughing when I read about the dilution of waste water downstream! I agree that a full audit by an independent organization is what’s needed. Also, property owners are being gouged (TAXES) by municipalities while this problem continues to worsen.

    • Ferris

      Johnny, I commend your desire to verify data that you distrust. I had concerns regarding high water issues at our hunt club and performed my own research. These ideas may help.

      – Contact the Lake Hartwell Association and Friends of the Savannah River Basin (Lake Thurmond Advocates). They may have information and resources useful for your goals. Find out why they have not merged.

      – You may monitor results of Thurmond releases with the same gauges utilized by downstream municipalities and GA, SC, and federal agencies. Contact these agencies and ask your questions.
      The key reference gauge is for the Savannah River below Augusta, or Butler Creek. This gauge is the first one after the reregulating dams but includes local inflows to that location. NOAA and USGS have slightly different flow rates for the same elevation. This morning at 96.03′, NOAA shows 3,450 cfs while USGS shows 3,620 cfs. You could email and ask why they differ and which to trust.

      NOAA link for Butler Creek-
      USGS link for GA-

      – Cameras on dam discharges will not provide useful information, which becomes even less useful because of peaking rather than steady releases. USACE targets average releases over a day or a week, but the range runs from 0 to ~20,000 cfs. Lake elevation changes and published data provide a publically available audit tool, but analyzing inflows and discharges over the three lakes requires skills in mass balancing that are daunting for everyone except experts. Monitoring the gauges mentioned becomes the best alternative, and the entities mentioned monitor these gauges all of the time.

      – Avoid confusion about Hartwell releases. USACE calls lake balance an objective, but not a purpose. If the Hartwell basin receives copious rainfall, USACE generally releases it to Thurmond via Russell for lake balance, but not necessarily immediately. Hartwell drought releases maximum SEPA efficiency in meeting contract commitments and lower pumping expenses when applicable. Only Thurmond releases leave the three project reservoirs.

      Recent Declarations reveal an unusual situation. Russell pumping stopped for the period from Oct 23 through Nov 5. Hartwell releases stop for the periods from Nov 3-9 and Nov 12-16. Keeping a relatively steady keel for Hartwell and Thurmond elevations required heavier Hartwell releases through Nov 2 and may require heavier releases during the gap. The plan can change with unexpected heavy rainfall.

    • Ferris

      I finally remembered where I had seen this schematic; page 14 of the Level 4 Drought Operations Final EA dated Oct 2011.

      Cameras would record only elevation fluctuations in the turbine discharge pool, a very imprecise indicator. I suspect you were thinking about spillway crest releases that occur only during testing and flood conditions, still a very imprecise indicator. I hope this helps.

      • Johnny Landreth

        Ferris, Cameras at the dam could record the amount of time the discharge occurs. Most dams the gates are opened a standard distance and they determine the flow by the time.

        • Ferris

          Johnny, maybe I am not following your thought, but the visible spillway gates for floodwater release are not open during normal operation. Perhaps this image of Russell operations will help (USACE brochure “Corps Lakes On The Savannah River” printed in Jan 2013). The green arrows apply to Hartwell and Thurmond, illustrating that normal releases for power generation occur beneath the surface and out of camera sight. This cross section focuses on power generation and does not show spillway gates.

          This link to hourly data may be useful for comparisons.
          The image shows how hourly releases on Oct 30 2017 produced a daily average of 8,250 cfs on the Declaration. I selected Hartwell, Total Project Discharge, Start Date 10/30/2017, End Date 10/30/2017, and Tabular for output.

          • Johnny Landreth

            Ferris when power is being generated the flow increases and the water level rises. you would be able to see the rise in water levels when generation of electricity occurs. They only generate power at certain times. It is not continuous.

          • Ferris

            Good luck on your quest Johnny! I encourage you to reread my comments and to focus on Thurmond releases. To answer your question on a previous topic, I graduated from UF with a BSChE. Chemical Engineers rule processes- design, construction, operation, and mass balances. I am no dam expert, but I know more than the “average bear” about the process portion. I created a spreadsheet model with a mass balance of the three projects and have monitored the data for years. A comparison of USACE data with USGS gauges on the lakes and downstream reveals no deception in reported releases or other data.

  • Jerry Clontz

    Why does the Corps keep going back to statements proven to be untrue. 4,000 cfs is foolish when we have demonstrated 3600 (3100 in cold months) to be adequate over periods of up to 12 months at a time. Even Corps documentation declares 3600cfs to have no significant environmental impact downstream of the lakes. And the most hilarious part of it all is that 3600cfs was arrived as a standard to make sure the SRS reactors had sufficient water available with 3 reactors in operation. SRS shut down these reactors before the turn of the century and their are no plans to ever use them again. This would be real funny if it were not for all the damage being done to lake interests from over zealous releases.

    • Thanks for your comment Jerry. What Corps documentation are you referring to? Also, for clarification, the 3,600 cfs minimum is a water quality and environmental requirement based on state wastewater permitting. ~Russell

    • Ferris

      Jerry, what is hilarious is that you apparently think you can make things true just by writing them. Agencies continue collecting and analyzing data and results, but your SRS statements refer to the 1989 DCP.
      – The first image from page 10 shows 3600 cfs as the minimum for 1 reactor, not 3 as you claim; 3 required 4880 cfs proving that SRS flows did not set the 3600 minimum as you claim. The DCP assessed minimum flow and intake requirements for other industry and municipalities along the river, this paragraph assessed just the SRS.
      – The second image from page 18 describes impact concerns for water quality (not quantity or flows) and for the freshwater estuary of the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge with 3600 cfs.
      – The third image from page J-8 clearly states the continuing primary water quality concern with 3600 cfs.

  • Cove man

    Respectfully why did the corps release 7800 cfs for a week after the last heavy rain and 6000 cfs the following week? Couldn’t you have run the std 4000 cfs? This is data from your own sight.

    • Ferris

      Cove man, I have been following this awhile. USACE has no drought restrictions on Hartwell releases; drought release rates apply only to Thurmond. The USACE objective maintains balance with Thurmond, but balance is not a project purpose. The short answer is that Hartwell shares water with Thurmond. Even with the releases, Hartwell balance is ~1.5′ high, meaning USACE would need to release even more Hartwell water to achieve balance.

      Recent Declarations reveal an unusual situation. Russell pumping stopped from Oct 23 through Nov 5. Hartwell releases stop for the periods from Nov 3-9 and Nov 12-16. Keeping a relatively steady keel for Hartwell and Thurmond elevations required heavier Hartwell releases through Nov 2 and may require heavier releases during the gap. The plan can change with unexpected rainfall.

  • Elisabeth White Putnam

    Gentlemen, Please close the gates during this good rain, these are our only opportunities to start the recovery process!!! Thanks In Advance

    • Ferris

      The difference between observed and forecast readings illustrates the futility of reducing downstream releases based on amount and timing of forecast rainfall that totaled less than an inch for the Augusta basin.

  • Lake hartwell laker

    Hey everyone. Love the story and how we received 7.5 inchs of rain. According to the chart they discussed on at the lhoa meeting a couple of weeks ago stated clearly that 7.5 inchs of rain would raise the lake level over 3 foot. We received about 4in lift.wow…what a joke. We need to ban together and start a class action suit to ensure we are receiving fair teatment. We pay for dock permits and higher taxes for what. Red clay banks. ..Fix the issue or change your PLAN. Seriously.

    • Ferris

      Lake hartwell laker, I pasted your post since it contains a disallowed advertising link and may need deletion to conform to the USACE blog policy.

      You are correct; the presentation chart shows a Hartwell elevation rise of 4′ for 7.7″ of rainfall. The rise would have been 4.06′ without evaporation, withdrawals, and releases to share with Thurmond.

      Historical data show that Hartwell began Oct at 651.40′, and averaged 3,270 cfs for inflows and 2,755 cfs for releases. The average 3,270 cfs for inflows calculates to 201,064 Acre Feet, equivalent to a 4.06′ rise from 651.40′ to 655.46′.

      As of this morning, Hartwell is still 1.56′ high relative to Thurmond, meaning that more Hartwell water needs releasing to achieve lake elevation balance.

    • Thanks for your comment. Ferris’ reply is correct, but rather technical. So for readers who would like a more straightforward answer, the chart we showed came with context. The context refers to Hurricane Irma rainfall. The NOAA forecast for Irma rainfall in the upper basin was up to 7 inches in one day. In our Sept. 10 post we wrote that if we got that much rain from Irma Hartwell was estimated to rise 3.5 feet.

      But your comment is referring to the 7.6 inches we received throughout the entire month of October. The time span of one day vs. 31 days accounts for the difference. Reservoir levels will respond much differently to 7.5 inches of rain if we receive it all in one day, rather than over 31 days. Runoff remains low when rain falls more gradually because it has time to soak into the ground, get pulled up by trees and evaporate. The discharge over 31 days is also much greater than the discharge over only one day. I hope this helps. ~Russell Wicke

    • Mark Kibilko

      I’m in and willing to help where I can. This is approaching criminal behavior by outflows ~7000 cfs this month. WHY!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • Mr. Kibilko,
        Good afternoon and thank you for your comments. You are correct in that the projected release at Hartwell from Nov. 20-24 is 7,712 each day. If you also notice, the scheduled releases for the previous 12 days is 0, except for Nov. 17, when it is 8,000 (see attached screenshot).

        The reason behind this is that the 3 Corps-managed dams on the Savannah River are treated as a system, and the water managers are balancing the system. In accordance with our winter release allowances, Thurmond must maintain a minimum of 3,600 cfs during this time of year while we’re in Drought Level 2 to still meet downstream needs.

        In the same way that Thurmond has been bearing the load for the system while Hartwell’s releases have been 0, Hartwell is now making its contribution to keeping things in balance.
        ~ Jeremy S. Buddemeier

        • (I’m having trouble posting the screenshot, but here’s the link to the declarations page we’re both referencing:

        • Elisabeth White Putnam

          The Corps are an absolute JOKE!!!! Why is it that every other lake not run by the Corps are full???? Lakes run by GA Power are full & they are obviously producing power!!!!

  • Ferris

    For those who question USACE release data, consider having a trusted expert verify the data as Johnny Landreth suggested. USACE historical data queries provide elevations, storage, and flows suitable for verification, while USGS lake and river gauges provide an external comparison. An expert evaluation will inevitably return focus to the equity of Thurmond drought plan releases rather than the honesty of USACE project data.

    Regarding the accuracy of posted Lake Hartwell releases, consider how USACE would benefit by misrepresenting these releases since the drought plan does not limit them. Releases flow to Russell and then Thurmond, but remain in the HRT system until released from Thurmond. Mass balances confirm elevations and releases.