By Col. Jeff Hall
USACE Savannah District Commander
Recently we sought to reduce the Savannah River basin reservoirs below the current 3,100 cubic feet per second (cfs) discharge rate. We suggested to state and federal resource agencies this would give us a set of data for future use in determining just how low we could go before sustaining damage to the environment or to human use downstream of Thurmond Dam.
Our state and federal partners did not agree with our suggestion. They cited serious concerns and provided scientific data on how lower flows are harming delicate ecosystems and critical habitat for threatened species (plant and animal) below the reservoirs. While we found their disagreements disappointing, we understand them. Like our partners, the Corps of Engineers has a responsibility to ensure the environment is protected.
River flows impact more than just reservoir levels upstream. The Savannah River provides food and homes to many species. It also provides drinking water and waste treatment to municipalities and is a valuable resource for businesses that employ thousands of people.
While I believe a short-term reduction below 3,100 cfs would provide important information for future decisions, I also realize such a small, temporary reduction would have little impact on reservoir levels. The real solution to the drought has little to do with lowering outflows and almost everything to do with a return to normal and consistent rainfall. The above-average precipitation in December has helped to recharge the soil and if we continue to get above average rainfall throughout the winter and spring months we will be well on the road to recovery. However, prudence should guard us from being too optimistic. If we continue to get only average rainfall our data suggests we will be entering the summer period more than just a few feet below full pool. And if the below-average rainfall continues we will certainly experience drought conditions and low lake levels throughout this next year.
We will continue to keep stakeholders updated and thank you for your patience and understanding.