In the Hartwell Lake sub-basin, we recorded the second highest amount of rainfall of any January since we started tracking it in 1948 – 8.65 inches of rain fell around Hartwell Lake in January. Creeks and streams continue to send inflows into the reservoir. Good news for Hartwell users.
The Thurmond Lake sub-basin, however, received below average rainfall for January and so far moderate rainfall for February: bad news for Thurmond users and for the entire basin. We need consistent rain over the entire basin from the headwaters to the estuary and even to Tybee Island, Ga., to benefit all basin stakeholders.
Although the rains continue to benefit the reservoirs with runoff, we expect to start the main summer recreation season at levels similar to 2012. Last year both reservoirs entered Memorial Day more than 8 feet below full summer pool. We expect only a slight betterment for Memorial Day 2013 – unless more rain falls than predicted by our forecasters and climatologists. Starting the summer low will likely mean the reservoir levels will track a similar path as last summer.
Why does this happen? Basic reason: The drought continues. Why do we state this now, so far from summer? We want basin stakeholders to be ready.
What can we do about this expectation? The Corps of Engineers is executing the August 2012 approved drought management plan but will continue to attempt adaptive management strategies to hold as much water as allowed in the system. Of course we will need the support from the Federal and State agencies to support these adaptive management efforts. We will continue to re-balance Hartwell and Thurmond over an extended time to allow rainfall to aid the process.
Will these predictions actually come true? No one really knows. As we reached the worst of the drought in December 2008, forecasters predicted continuing dry weather with the great likelihood of reaching an unprecedented Drought Level 4. Just two weeks later rains began and instead of reaching level 4 the reservoirs exceeded full pool in the following months.
Regardless of conditions, the Corps of Engineers will work diligently to meet the missions set for us by the U.S. Congress. This ultimately benefits the greatest number of people throughout the basin. Even with lower-than-ideal levels, boating, fishing, camping, hiking, and other recreational opportunities abound at the Savannah District’s reservoirs.
~Billy Birdwell, Corporate Communications Office