By Russell Wicke
Savannah District Corporate Communications
We were recently asked to provide an update on the status of the Savannah River Basin Comprehensive Study. The Comprehensive Study is the tool the Corps will use to see if changes to the three reservoir projects and their operations are warranted, including the way in which we manage water during drought. The Corps must document the value, impacts and risks of any proposed change and obtain environmental approvals before it makes the change. It may seem logical to make changes and observe results, but in a delicate ecosystem this could result in permanent damage to the environment.
The Comp Study has been on hold for a few years. At the request of our non-federal partners, we approached this study in phases and completed the first interim study in 2006. The subject of this writing will focus on the status of the next step in the study: the second interim study. The second interim study will determine if modifications to our current drought plan are warranted to help safely preserve more water during extreme drought conditions.
Before we begin the second part of the Comp Study two things need to be accomplished: (1) Funding must be obtained, and (2) we need to determine who will be responsible for the different parts of work required.
The second part of the Comp Study will cost an estimated $908,000. According to written agreement, the federal government is responsible for half of this cost and non-federal sponsors are responsible for the other half. This arrangement is defined by the Feasibility Cost Sharing Agreement, or FCSA.
Congress provided the federal funds in 2010. Since then securing funds from the non-federal sponsors has proven difficult due to budget constraints. In an effort to find a solution to budget limitations, the FCSA allows for the non-federal sponsors to receive financial credit for the value of work they perform as part of the study.
The other obstacle we face involves determining who will perform specific parts of the work and research. The proposed FSCA identifies three non-federal organizations who will participate in the study: (1) Georgia Department of Natural Resources, (2) South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and just recently, (3) The Nature Conservancy, or TNC. The Amendment to the FCSA is currently in progress to add the TNC as a sponsor.
At the time of this writing, we await concurrence from the sponsors on the amendment to the FCSA involving the addition of TNC. Once all non-federal sponsors agree to the amendment, our division office in Atlanta will seek approval from the Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
We are also currently working with the sponsors to finalize details on how the work will be parceled out to each of the three sponsors and the Corps of Engineers.
However, determining the work each sponsor will perform, and the value of that work, requires negotiation and book keeping. This takes time because each sponsor must examine the capabilities of its staff and whether that staff would be available to perform a given task when needed. Consensus must then be reached by all sponsors. Once consensus is reached, it is written into a Project Management Plan (PMP), which describes in detail the work to be performed and the schedule by which the work will be completed.
We are currently in the process of gaining concurrence from all the sponsors on the PMP. Although it takes effort and time, we are committed to performing and completing this study. We understand how important it is to basin stakeholders and we take it very seriously.
GOAL OF THE STUDY
Ultimately the second part of the Comp Study is meant to answer two questions:
1) How low can reservoir releases be before irreversible harm is done to the economy and environment?
2) How long can releases be kept at the lowest recommended level?
Many people eagerly seek answers to these questions, and rightly so. The livelihood of people and the ecosystem depend on it. However, prudence also cautions us for the possibility that the results may be disagreeable. The data we find might favor lower flows – but it might suggest our current minimum outflows need increasing.
As stewards of the basin we remain committed to managing the river’s limited resources in the best way possible for the sake of all who depend on a healthy basin.
We welcome your comments and questions.