Comparing the two Fish Passage alternatives

Since we announced the recommended plan of Alternative 2-6d that would replace the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam with a fixed weir, many in the Augusta area have expressed interest in a different alternative, namely Alternative 1-1.

The Alt 1-1 design retains part of the current lock and dam with the fish passage moved partially out of the channel and onto the Georgia side of the river. We have received a number of inquiries on the cost of Alt 1-1, specifically compared to the recommended plan Alt 2-6d.

In order to provide more clarity to the public about the differences in cost, we requested a certified cost from our center of expertise and initiated consultation with NOAA Fisheries for Alt 1-1.

The feedback we received from the certified cost estimate confirmed Alt 1-1 costs more to operate and maintain than Alt 2-6d and, upon consultation with NOAA Fisheries the design is less likely to successfully pass fish.

The draft cost estimates for Alt 1-1 is more than twice the amount when compared with the recommended plan (Alt 2-6d) as shown in the below table below.

In accordance with our engineer regulations, the estimate is provided as a project first cost; that is, the full amount over time if one were to pay for everything up front in the current fiscal year.

The construction, real estate and major rehabilitation are shown in the dollar amounts expected if the entire option were paid for all at once in cash today. The operation and maintenance equate to the value of the effort in today’s dollar value if this project is completed over the next 100 years with an estimated wage growth, using the government labor estimate.

It helps to understand that the construction cost for the entire Savannah Harbor Expansion Project is shared with Georgia as the non-federal sponsor: 75 percent federal, 25 percent non-federal.

Based on the WIIN Act changes for the lock and dam, the federal cost share of the SHEP Fish Passage feature is limited to 75 percent of the original SHEP Fish Passage authorized in 2014, which is currently estimated at $62,673,000.

Alt 1-1 was not selected as the federal plan. Therefore, any possibility to implement Alt 1-1 would require the non-federal sponsors, Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) and Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), to request a Locally Preferred Plan (LPP).

Under the cost-sharing requirements for a LPP, the non-federal sponsor is required to pay the difference in cost between the federal plan and the LPP alternative if the LPP is more costly than the federal plan.

Also, the locally preferred plan’s ability to adequately pass endangered fish must be similar to the ability of the federal plan. Therefore, NOAA Fisheries consultation needs to provide assurance of equal benefits.

To date, our discussions with NOAA Fisheries indicate that the fish passing efficacy of Alt 1-1 is expected to be less than the ability of the 2-6d design. For this reason, we eliminated Alt 1-1 from further consideration.

The simulation exercise and the public comments are adding to our knowledge on the project as we continue to move forward with the mandate to begin construction by January 2021.

We are open to conversations with our non-federal sponsors and our water policy experts on other alternatives that would provide water surface elevations similar to Alt 1-1, but that include a full-river fish passage and weir.

Any alternative will require dedicated, cooperative and timely engagement with our non-federal sponsors to address all cost and real estate issues, which may occur with alternatives other than Alt 2-6d.

We remain committed to meeting the schedule as outlined in the NOAA-issued Biological Opinion, which requires start of construction by January 2021.

~ Russell Wicke, Corporate Communications Office

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Thurmond falls short; Hartwell picks up the tab

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Three sub-basins walk into a bar …

As the February tallies poured in, it was clear the Savannah River Basin wasn’t joking around when it came to precipitation.

So far, the sub-basins have collected above to well-above average rainfall since October 2018.

The only exception in those five months has been Thurmond last month, which received 70 percent of its average (3 inches versus its 4.3-inch average).

Though Russell pretty much broke even (4.24 versus its 4.14-inch average), Hartwell more than made up for Thurmond’s shortcomings by registering 7.66 inches compared to its 5-inch average.

As we transition from winter (Can you really call it that?) into spring, climatologists with the Southeast River Forecast Center are predicting more of the same: a continued chance of above normal precipitation through May, though the temperatures should be slightly warmer than average in March.

Service Coordination Hydrologist Todd Hamill mentioned that although the organization’s predictions last year about the Southeast’s wet winter came true, they couldn’t take full credit.

“We got the forecast right, but we got a little lucky,” Hamill said in the Water Resources Outlook video, and the subtle difference was due more to persistent weather patterns than global-scale climate patterns.

All of this bodes well for the sub-basins as recreation season begins to gear up. Look for more information about campground and day-use area openings in the coming weeks.

Until then, enjoy that spring weather before the bugs start doing the same.

~ Jeremy S. Buddemeier, Corporate Communications Office

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Comment period on future of lock & dam extended, passing fish remains priority

SAVANNAH, Ga. – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District, added an additional 30 days to the comment period related to plans to pass fish upstream of the existing New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam near Augusta, Georgia.

The extension will end on Tuesday, April 16, 2019, at 4 p.m. Eastern time. The comment period began on Feb. 16.

The Corps of Engineers has recommended adding a rock weir to the Savannah River and removing the lock and dam in order to comply with the Endangered Species Act.

To meet the law’s requirement, the Corps must give the endangered shortnose sturgeon access to former spawning grounds above the lock and dam. The draft recommended plan provides for the highest probability to successfully pass fish while not inducing flooding.

“Part of my decision to grant a 30-day extension was to accommodate requests from local and federal officials,” said Col. Daniel Hibner, commander of the Savannah District. “But another big part of the decision was prompted from my engagements and personal assessments with residents in their backyards in Augusta and North Augusta during the simulation exercise.”

“While we are steadfast in our commitment to meeting our legal requirements under the Endangered Species Act, there is understandably a tremendous amount of public interest,” added Hibner.

“We want to make sure everyone with an interest in the fish passage project has ample time to understand and provide comment on this extremely important mitigation project.”

The New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam opened in 1937 to aid river commerce on the Savannah River between Augusta and Savannah. Regular commercial traffic on the Savannah River ended in 1979. The recommended plan would bring the project into compliance with the ESA.

The Corps’ recommended plan will allow fish to access spawning areas closed since the lock and dam opened. It will also maintain a pool along Augusta’s riverfront.

The public can submit comments two ways:

  • By mail: Savannah District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Planning Division,
    ATTN: Ms. Robin Armetta (PM-P), 100 West Oglethorpe Avenue, Savannah, Georgia 31401-3604
  • By email:

In addition, the Corps will provide a means for the public to submit verbal comments for the record during an interactive workshop on March 6, from 4 to 6 p.m., at the Augusta Marriott (at the Convention Center), Two Tenth Street, in Augusta, Georgia. The event will be held in the Lamar Room.

~ Billy Birdwell, Corporate Communications Office

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Lock & Dam workshop is March 6 at Augusta Marriott

SAVANNAH, Ga. – The Savannah District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will hold an interactive workshop on the proposed future of the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam from 4 to 6 p.m., March 6, at the Augusta Marriott (at the Convention Center), Two Tenth Street, in Augusta, Georgia. The event will be held in the Lamar Room. Continue reading

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Fish passage draft report released, public meeting is March 6

After a one-day delay, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District, published today the Draft Integrated Post Authorization Analysis Report and Supplemental Environmental Assessment (SEA), Fish Passage at New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam (NSBLD), and Draft Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) to evaluate proposed changes to the Fish Passage feature of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP). Continue reading

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Weir simulation reaches targeted depth in Augusta

SAVANNAH, Ga. – The Savannah River level in the Augusta area reached target elevation today as part of the simulation planned to allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District, as well as the public, to observe the summer conditions expected with the fish passage recommended plan, known as Alternative 2-6d. Continue reading

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Why Augusta’s river level shouldn’t determine Thurmond discharge

(Editor’s Note: This post, written by Savannah District Deputy District Engineer Erik Blechinger, was published in the Augusta Chronicle Feb. 9.)

Over the course of several public meetings and feedback on social media there appears to be misunderstanding over what the fish passage legislation intends for acceptable river water levels in the downtown Augusta area.

Some insist the language in the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act requires construction of a structure that will hold the same water level as existed in December 2016, which is the law’s date of enactment. Continue reading

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Sub-basins, start your engines

The Savannah River Basin came out of the gates running for the first month in 2019. However, unlike many people, it kept its New Year’s resolutions and remained above average in January.

Each of the sub-basins exceeded its average by at least half an inch, making January the fourth consecutive month with above average rainfall. Continue reading

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Fixed weir pool simulation, release of draft report scheduled for mid-February

For those interested in how the planned fixed weir at the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam site will look along the Savannah River in the Augusta area – stand by. We plan to simulate conditions by making incremental adjustments to water levels beginning Feb. 9. Continue reading

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Looking back is looking up

The months of May, November and December were clear standouts in 2018.

After toiling diligently for the past two plus years, it seems the Savannah River Basin has finally freed itself from the drought that began in 2016. Continue reading

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