In the last edition of Balancing the Basin, I mentioned that the Savannah District was working on a draft Environmental Assessment known as an “Interim Drought Plan EA” that would evaluate minor adjustments to the 2006 Drought Contingency Plan. We have completed the Draft EA and are currently soliciting comments from state and federal natural resource agencies, stakeholders, and the public.
Our Draft EA examined alternative drought management approaches that could respond more efficiently to the varying needs of the basin. It focused on improving use of conservation storage to meet the Congressionally-authorized purposes of the reservoirs: water supply and water quality, downstream navigation, hydropower, fish and wildlife, flood risk management, and recreation.
Our recommended alternative uses an inflow-based drought indicator, which would adjust releases from the three-reservoir system as river inflows decline at the USGS Broad River gage at Bell, an unregulated tributary that flows into the Thurmond reservoir.
We understand that drought is a major concern for our stakeholders throughout the Savannah River Basin. Our goal is to balance the needs of upstream and downstream users, within our Congressionally-authorized authorities, to ensure the overall sustainment of the basin, human health, and the environment. Therefore, our Planning and Engineering team designed this EA to provide flexibility to the existing Drought Contingency Plan during extended drought periods. We wanted to identify ways to respond earlier in a drought to conserve additional water storage, while balancing the impacts of drought on our other project purposes.
Once we collect and assess public comments, the EA could go into effect as early as June. This EA is expected to remain in place until we complete the next step of the Savannah River Basin Comprehensive Study, which will update the drought plan based on the “drought of record.”
On another note, I extend a tremendous ‘thank you’ to the community groups, stakeholders, Corps employees, government officials and others who contributed to the Hartwell Dam and Lake 50th Anniversary Commemoration Ceremony on April 27. More than 350 people attended the event, including about 15 former construction workers and their family members. It was an honor to shake their hands and tell them how much we appreciate their service to the Hartwell Project, the region, and the nation.
But as we remembered and honored the last 50 years, we also looked ahead to the future, highlighting the need to update and modernize infrastructure across the nation. I extend my sincere thanks to Mr. Richard Lockwood, Chief of Operations and Regulatory for the USACE Headquarters, for delivering the keynote address at the ceremony, who spoke on the theme of infrastructure transformation from the national perspective. I also thank the many Congressional staffers who attended on behalf of Congressmen in the region. You can see additional coverage and photos of the 50th Anniversary ceremony included in this issue of Balancing the Basin.
If you’ve read a newspaper or watched the news lately, you’ve probably heard of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. We released the project’s final report on April 11 for public comment. This report culminated 15 years of intense study, comprehensive analysis, and coordination with multiple state and federal agencies, stakeholders, and the public. We anticipate a Record of Decision later this year, which would be the final step before construction can begin. This a major milestone for the Savannah District, the State of Georgia, and the entire nation, as our reports indicate the harbor deepening would bring an annual net benefit of $174 million to the nation. Learn more about the engineering, environmental and economic aspects of the project on our SHEP website.
As with every project we do in the Corps of Engineers, we strive to be transparent with the public and our stakeholders. I hope you find that Balancing the Basin helps do just that. Please pass it along to a friend or coworker. If you have story ideas or comments, please let us know by contacting the Corporate Communications Office.
Col. Jeff Hall
Commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District