Drought Update: December rainfall above average, basin remains in drought

By Col. Jeff Hall
USACE Savannah District Commander 

The Savannah River Basin experienced some relief in December with above-average rainfall. Although much of the rainfall went to recharging the dry ground, some also turned into runoff that raised lake levels a little more than a foot.  

December’s rain wasn’t as useful as it could have been because of the significant rain deficit in November. November 2012 ranked as one of the top three driest months in the past 10 year. Only two other months had less rain: September 2005 and September 2008.  

The average rainfall for November at the Hartwell sub-basin is 4.6 inches and this year saw less than an inch.

Although December had better-than-average rainfall, November’s deficit was more harmful than December’s surplus was beneficial. Both months together represent an overall deficit.  

The Savannah River Basin is not alone in the drought crisis. Our continued need for rain reflects the overall national plight: The continental United States is suffering from real and significant drought. Rain deficits in our basin make up a small part of the overall national struggle for fresh water. Sixty-two percent of the continental United States continues to be affected by ongoing, persistent drought with impacts ranging from moderate to severe conditions. The Great Lakes have descended to historic lows, the Mississippi River is well below its average flow and U.S. Crops are only a fraction of what they once were. In fact, for the first time corn was actually imported instead of exported through the Savannah Port in December.  

Despite the situation the Savannah River Basin is in, we want to reassure our stakeholders that the Savannah District is working with the state and federal agencies to mitigate the effects of drought as much as possible. We have reduced outflows to the minimum: 3,100 cubic feet per second, what amounts to a ration of water downstream and our lowest allowable outflow. Additionally, as part of our newly updated drought plan we are using the USGS Broad River Gage, an unimpaired tributary to Thurmond’s sub basin to calculate inflows which helps determine our minimum outflows.   

Ultimately, we must carefully consider all impacts of every action we take. Any proposed course of action that changes the management and availability of water in the basin must be carefully assessed and coordinated with the state and federal agencies and stakeholders. Coordination and assessment is necessary to fully understand the near- and long-term benefits, impacts and risks of proposed changes, and to ensure the projects continue to meet their congressionally authorized purposes. 

The bottom line is the nation needs rain – and a lot of it – to ease the drought situation. Our rain deficits help us all realize the true value of fresh water. It is a finite resource with many competing and growing demands, and it is critical for all stakeholders and agencies to work together to ensure effective, strategic management of that resource during an extended drought.  

Thank you for persevering with us during drought periods. We will continue to keep you updated.

About U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District oversees a multimillion 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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