By Billy Birdwell, Public Affairs Specialist
Wow! What an exciting month we just had in the Savannah River basin!
Last month set the July record for rainfall at all three reservoirs. Hartwell Lake received 13.37 inches, Russell Lake received 9.97 inches and Thurmond Lake received 9.42 inches. In fact, July 2013 was one of the wettest months in the upper basin since 1948. Only September 2004 at all three reservoirs plus August 1995 (only at Russell Lake) exceeded the rainfall measured last month. In September 2004 it took a hurricane (“Ivan”) and two tropical storms (“Jeanne” and “Francis”) passing through the upper basin to set those rainfall records.
All this rain led to a significant rise in reservoir levels. Levels at Hartwell Lake rose nearly 5 feet at one point in the month leading to a very rare opening of the spillway gates to lower the reservoir level.
In addition to the spillway opening at Hartwell the District team followed water management plans and lowered the reservoirs by passing water through the powerplants around-the-clock. These controlled releases through the powerplants generated an abundance of clean energy while reducing the risk of downstream flooding.
In addition Savannah’s dam safety team tested the spillway gates at all three dams. Thousands of spectators witnessed these short, dramatic tests in person or through the media. The tests ensure the spillway gates can open, and just as importantly, close in those rare times operators need to make a rapid reduction in reservoir levels.
This much rain produced some temporary inconveniences. Park rangers closed some recreation areas temporarily for safety until the water receded and teams could clean up the areas. Some owners of private docks on Thurmond and Hartwell lakes faced temporary difficulties using those docks until dam operators safely reduced the reservoir levels. However, as water managers brought the reservoirs closer to guide curve (aka, “full pool”) full access to recreation areas and docks returned.
The rainfall impacted the lower basin as well. Rain-swollen tributaries downstream plus the large releases from Thurmond Dam caused the Savannah River to rise above average. Combined with above average high tides associated with the full moon, these flows pushed some water onto the River Street walk in Savannah.
Although the month kept the water managers, dam operators, park rangers, dam safety managers, and (yes) the Corporate Communications Office team, very busy, we welcomed the rain in July. Only 12 months ago drought gripped the basin. Today, we’re ♫Singing in the Rain.♫