SHEP solidifies Savannah’s status with super-sized ships

The CMA CGM Brazil arrives at the Garden City Terminal. Photo courtesy of Georgia Ports Authority.

SAVANNAH, Ga. – Last week, the Georgia Ports Authority welcomed a big-time VIS (very important ship), which not only made waves in Savannah, but all along the East Coast.

The CMA CGM Brazil, which is the largest ship to call on the East Coast, cruised up River Street the morning of Sept. 18.

The ship’s tugboats gave a water salute on its route upriver, accentuating its 1,200-foot-long hull, which boasts a capacity of more than 15,000 containers (twenty-foot equivalent units or TEUs).

“The sight of this colossal ship makes perfectly clear the benefits America will gain from the Savannah Harbor deepening,” said Col. Daniel Hibner, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District.

“The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, now nearly complete, will boost the economy at a critical time and will have broad impacts for Georgia, South Carolina and throughout the Southeast.”

The Brazil’s visit is significant because it represents the culmination of years of planning and dredging among several ports along the East Coast, of which the Corps of Engineers is a major partner. The ship made stops at ports in New York/New Jersey, Norfolk and Charleston, all represented by our sister USACE districts.

A statue of Florence “The Waving Girl” Martus welcomes the CMA CGM Brazil, the largest ship to call on the East Coast, as it makes its way up the Savannah River, Sept. 18, 2020. 
Video by Jeremy S. Buddemeier, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District.

The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project is the preeminent deepening project in the USACE portfolio because no other project compares to its national yields: For every dollar spent, the nation will get $7.30 in return.

After the Brazil arrived at the Garden City Terminal, GPA held a press conference to thank CMA CGM officials for trusting the port, and to thank the project partners who have contributed to SHEP’s success.

Griff Lynch, GPA’s executive director, said for every foot deeper in the Savannah Harbor, GPA could load an additional 200 containers on this vessel. SHEP will deepen the Savannah River 5 feet (from 42 to 47 feet), so that’s 1,000 more containers.

Although post-Panamax ships like the Brazil have been able to call on Savannah because of the huge tidal fluctuations, a deeper channel will increase efficiencies by allowing more ships like this to deliver goods with fewer weight and tidal restrictions.

SHEP is currently 75 percent complete and is expected to be finished in 2021.

For more photos of the Brazil’s visit, check out our Flickr site.

~ Jeremy S. Buddemeier, Corporate Communications Office

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Sally brings rain: Here’s how our reservoirs will manage

After making landfall in the Gulf Coast early this morning, Hurricane Sally is expected to downgrade to a depression and move eastward soaking a wide path through Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

All three of our reservoirs – Hartwell, Russell and Thurmond – are in the crosshairs of the forecast, which anticipates between 4 to 6 inches of rainfall evenly across the upper basin.

This is the rainfall forecast from the National Hurricane Center at 8 a.m. this morning.
The red circle identifies the area of our three reservoirs.
This radar image from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts isolated areas could expect up to 7 inches.

Also, as of this morning, all three of our reservoirs are at full-pool levels: 660 for Hartwell, 474.6 for Russell and 329.6 for Thurmond.  

In these situations, when we have full pools and the forecast is expecting large amounts of rain across the entire upper basin, people often ask if we plan to discharge water in advance to make room for rainfall.

Our answer here as in every other case has been no – no advance discharges. We do not release water in response to forecasted rainfall. There are at least three reasons for this:

First, releasing in advance of a storm adds significant uncontrolled flow to areas downriver that may also be receiving large amounts of rainfall. An early release would saturate the soil and raise the water table increasing flood risk downriver of the dams.

Second, it is inherently difficult to predict rainfall with any accuracy: Very often forecasted rainfall doesn’t materialize in the amounts expected. And given our basin’s history with drought, it would be a terrible waste to release water at the threshold of the dry season and miss the refill.

You can read about a classic example of this in 2018 when Hurricane Florence was forecasted to bring 9 inches of rain to the basin … and we observed no more than 3 inches.

Third, we designed our dams and reservoirs with a buffer zone of flood storage. Beyond their full pool levels, they are equipped with an additional five feet of storage area for flood waters.

This flood storage area provides more than 823,000 acre-feet of additional storage. That’s a huge amount of water – enough to fill up Richard B. Russell Reservoir from bottom to top.

And it’s enough to manage the forecasted 4 to 6 inches from Sally’s tropical depression. We expect to capture much of the coming rainfall in this storage area, and then gradually release the surplus downriver at non-damaging rates over a few weeks.

Another condition in our favor is that Sally’s rainfall is forecasted, not over a few hours, but over a three-day period. This mitigates the intensity of the rain, giving us more time to process inflow to the reservoirs.

But even if we observe rainfall that surpasses the flood storage capacity, our dams are further designed to manage surplus water that minimizes impacts down river. All three dams work together as a system with the ability to move water among them. When one sub-basin receives disproportionate rainfall, the others can absorb or re-distribute the impact throughout the entire system.

Finally, the spillway gates are specially designed to increase flood storage. Therefore, if we run out of our normal flood storage, our releases will be less than the natural storm flow, greatly reducing flood risk downriver.

The Savannah River Basin dams are designed to handle much greater storm events than is forecasted with Sally. They’ve handled greater events in the past, and they are well-equipped to handle the rain expected in the coming days.

Don’t hesitate to ask a question in the comment section below!

~Russell Wicke, Corporate Communications Office 

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Mother Nature gets serious

Thurmond’s perfect attendance in August.

As students around the Southeast have gone back to school virtually, Mother Nature showed up in person in a big way at Savannah River Basin High.

Not content with last month’s ‘B’ in summer school, she delivered nearly twice her average rainfall for August at each of the sub-basins.

At the Thurmond sub-basin, in particular, she also logged perfect attendance, registering as “present” on each day of the month (as shown above in the doppler radar accounting).

The sub-basins put on their best back-to-school outfits, as well.

Hartwell took home the superlative for “most precipitation,” grabbing 9.22 inches compared to her 5‑inch average. This performance notched her position as fourth all-time for Hartwell in August, behind a string of 9-inch-plus whoppers in the ‘90s, including 10.02 (1995), 9.78 (1992) and 9.41 (1994).

Thurmond and Russell didn’t let Harwell’s success deter them, though.

Thurmond collected 7.4 inches, and Russell, a solid 6.8 inches, compared to their 3.8- and 3.7-inch averages, respectively.

Thurmond’s take last month was enough to make him runner-up (Prom Prince?) for the sub-basin’s all-time August precipitation title, with first place going to 1995 (again!) at 8.08 inches.

Russell’s 6.82-inch performance netted him an honorable mention (fourth place), three places behind (you guessed it), Mr. Wonderful 1995 at 10.74 inches. (Apparently August 1995 was a stellar season for Savannah River Basin rainfall.)

All this above-average rainfall arrived at a time that normally features greater evapo-transpiration, increased hydroelectric power demand and declining rainfall, which all work to lower reservoir levels.

The reservoirs have benefited from the Savannah River Basin’s excess rain this year.

As a result of the solid precipitation the basin has enjoyed throughout the summer, with strong “book-end” showings in May and August specifically, reservoir levels have remained close to full pool since spring.

Now, as fall approaches and already active hurricane season enters its most prolific period, perhaps average will be good enough to get us through the semester.

~ Jeremy S. Buddemeier, Corporate Communication Office

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Researchers take a break from painting town red, try the river

Rhodamine dye enters the Savannah River with dissolved oxygen near the downriver DO site, Aug. 25.

SAVANNAH, Ga. – Did you hear the one about the biologists who stained the Savannah River red? Apparently they were dye-ing for results (ba-dum pah)! Seriously though, folks …

All dad jokes aside, last week biologists and environmental engineers from LG2 Environmental Solutions, Inc. and Tetra Tech, Inc., used a concentrated red dye to track the movement of dissolved oxygen throughout the Savannah River.

“Rhodamine dye is a specific dye for water tracing studies,” said Rick McCann, geologist and senior project manager with LG2 Environmental Solutions, Inc. “It’s really red and does a marvelous job staining the river. So we see a visual indication of the dye, but we also detect it with our instruments even when we can’t detect it visually.”

Researchers injected the non-toxic dye at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District’s two Dissolved Oxygen (DO) Injection System sites — one upriver near Plant McIntosh in Rincon, Ga., and the other downriver site on Hutchinson Island – as super-oxygenated water left the sites on two separate days.

They then used instruments called Sondes on pre-positioned buoys and in boats to track the dye and the dissolved oxygen’s movement throughout the water column.

Researchers test for dissolved oxygen in the Savannah River with a super dye test, Aug. 24-26.

The DO sites are designed to help mitigate for the loss of oxygen as the harbor is deepened from 42 to 47 feet as part of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project.

The extra oxygen added to the river, specifically during the summer months when dissolved oxygen is naturally lower, will benefit fish like the endangered shortnose sturgeon and Atlantic sturgeon as they make their way upstream and back downstream again to the Atlantic Ocean.

On the first day of testing, researchers injected 60 gallons of dye at the upriver DO site as super-oxygenated water entered the river. According to Jim Greenfield, an environmental engineer with LG2 Environmental Solutions, Inc., they tracked the dye downstream as far as Highway 17 (Talmadge Bridge) just past the Garden City Terminal.

The second day, a similar test was run on a rising tide, which carried the dye and dissolved oxygen from the downstream DO plant upriver into the turning basin and areas of the little back river.

On the third and final day, researchers used Sondes to continue to track the dissolved oxygen as it dispersed throughout the river.

“This (test) tells us where the oxygen is going, how fast the oxygen is mixing and how well it’s mixed through the system,” Greenfield said.

Now that the testing is complete, the researchers have begun the painstaking process of entering all the data into a water quality model, which, according to Greenfield, will help determine the impacts and assistance that the dissolved oxygen injection sites are giving to the harbor.

And that, especially if you’re a shortnose or Atlantic sturgeon, is no joke.

~ Jeremy S. Buddemeier, Corporate Communications Office

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It’s heating up

As the summer kicks into full gear and hurricane season does, too, we normally see a slight, welcome bump in July precipitation along the Savannah River Basin. This year, not so much.

While each of the sub-basins fell short of its average by a half an inch or more, it’s interesting to point out all three collected almost exactly the same amount:

Sub-basin Rainfall (inches) Average (inches)
Hartwell 3.87 5.12
Russell 3.83 4.24
Thurmond 3.83 4.22

We’ve definitely had better Julys – like in 2013 when Hartwell was inundated with 13+ inches and Thurmond and Russell each received about 10 inches – but all in all, it was just another “meh” month: nothing to write home about, but probably not a cause for concern, either.

Speaking of concern, if you haven’t restocked your hurricane / emergency kit for the season, now is the perfect time. Ready.gov has several helpful tools.

This week, unless you live in the Carolinas, you probably read or watched more about Hurricane Isaias than you experienced. Here in downtown Savannah we received less rain than a typical afternoon summer shower with nominal winds.

I say this not to taunt the hurricane gods, but as a gentle wake-up call to be prepared for the next one. We took the opportunity to mobilize our survey vessels and personnel, and triple check our supplies (now with COVID-19 bonus items like masks and sanitizer).

In the event a storm forces the Brunswick or Savannah ports to close, our teams work with the Coast Guard and Georgia Ports Authority to identify potential navigational hazards (such as debris or shoaling) after the storm as passed.

Isaias was the ninth named storm of the season and NOAA’s Hurricane Center still expects a busy hurricane season.

As the graph at the top of this post indicates, we are now on the cusp of peak season where the number of hurricanes and tropical storms begins to increase precipitously.

Last year, we produced a short video on three steps the public can take to prepare for hurricane season. These tips are a good place to start.

However, it’s not a bad idea to consider (and plan) for how the current pandemic could complicate the situation on the ground as it relates to evacuations and storm preparations.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s to be prepared for the unexpected and, as always, to remain flexible.

~ Jeremy S. Buddemeier, Corporate Communication Office

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Savannah River Basin leads Average Rainfalls at halftime

Thurmond sub-basin has been putting up some good numbers thus far against the Average Rainfalls, but the Savannah River Basin will need consistent performance to have a shot at a record-breaking season.

Coming off a mediocre 2019 season, the Savannah River Basin looked to rebuild this year and has already reaped the benefits of preseason adjustments.

The basin’s star trio fell short of its average for the first time this year (the second time for Hartwell), but is on pace to finish out one of the strongest seasons since these statistics were recorded.

Thurmond led all scorers in June with 3.78 inches (97% of its 3.88-inch average), followed closely by Russell (3.59 inches compared to its 3.83-inch average). Hartwell had a sluggish performance, registering a mere 3.11 inches, just 65% of its 4.77-inch average.

By the time the June 30 bell sounded, the Average Rainfalls had prevailed.  

However, most diehard fans are hoping June’s showing was an anomaly rather than an emerging trend.

Two years ago Hartwell finished with a cumulative 71.99 inches, the seventh highest since 1948. That same year, Thurmond amassed 58.15 inches, its third best. Each sub-basin is approximately 10 inches above the cumulative rainfall it collected in the first half of 2018.

And if both sub-basins can muster at least their monthly average for the second half of the year, they’ll trounce those 2018 performances.

As the second half heats up and transpiration and evaporation begin to take their toll on the sub-basins, the trio has already collected between 35-45% of its average for July.

2020 has been anything but average thus far, but if the basin can surpass the Average Rainfalls, it’ll be in good shape for notching another record season.

~ Jeremy S. Buddemeier, Corporate Communications Office

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Comp Study ends: Water quality, other concerns, leave drought plan unchanged

Officials here ended the second interim of the Savannah River Basin Comprehensive Study due to inadequate analysis, a lack of full partnership concurrence on the recommendation and insufficient funding.

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The season of ‘nothing stays the same’

The Savannah River Basin continued to bolster the prevailing theme for 2020: Change is the new routine.

April and May are normally the start of the drier season where our water managers must contend more sharply with increases in demand for water from people (hydropower), plants (transpiration) and the planet (evaporation).

However, this year we’ve seen a surge in precipitation. Thurmond collected 4.8 inches — more than an inch above its average – and it was the driest sub-basin in May.

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4 dredges work in concert as SHEP begins final push

The dredge Hampton Roads works just outside the Garden City Terminal in Port Wentworth, Ga.
Photo courtesy of Georgia Ports Authority.

SAVANNAH, Ga. – The deepening of the Savannah harbor has set a new precedent with four dredges in the harbor simultaneously, the Army Corps of Engineers announced.

The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) includes two dredges keeping the channel at its current authorized depth of 42 feet, followed by two dredges taking the channel to its new depth of 47 feet.

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Hartwell Lake closes Singing Pines boat ramp

SAVANNAH, Ga. – Corps of Engineers officials at Hartwell Lake have closed all access at Singing Pines Recreation Area, including the roadway leading to the boat ramp parking area, in response to repeated trespassing of the adjacent closed day-use area and public safety issues along the park entrance road and the boat ramp parking area.

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