By Tracy Robillard, Public Affairs Specialist
Editor’s Note: This article is the first in a two-part series that discusses the importance of water supply and water quality as congressional purposes for the Savannah River Basin dams and reservoirs.
When was the last time you poured a glass of water from the faucet? Do you know where that water came from? If you live near lakes Hartwell, Richard B. Russell or J. Strom Thurmond, chances are your tap water comes from the Savannah River Basin.
Perhaps the most important function of the Savannah River reservoirs is water supply—providing a source of clean water to sustain human life. In total, the entire basin supplies drinking water to more than 1.2 million people in Georgia and South Carolina from its headwaters to the estuary.
Congress added water supply as an authorized purpose under the Water Supply Act of 1958. This legislation gives communities throughout the Savannah River Basin the option to receive water supply allocations from the reservoirs.
Currently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has 13 water storage contracts at the three reservoirs. Essentially, these contracts give the purchaser the right to a certain portion of water storage space within the reservoir, according to Melissa Wolf, Corps natural resources specialist.
“We don’t sell the water, only the space for storing the water within the reservoir,” Wolf said.
To determine the required storage space, Corps water managers calculate a “dependable yield” value, which means that X amount of space within the reservoir will yield Y amount of water, even during the worst-case drought of record, Wolf said.
Cities that get their drinking water from the reservoirs include McCormick, S.C.; and Lavonia, Elberton, Washington, Lincolnton, and Thomson, Ga. Other users are Hart County and Columbia County, Ga., the South Carolina Public Service Authority, the Anderson Regional Joint Water System, and the Savannah Valley Authority.
Many other communities get drinking water from the Savannah River downstream of the Thurmond Dam, including two major metropolitan Georgia cities (Augusta and Savannah) as well as Beaufort and Hilton Head, S.C.
Water supply needs downstream of the Thurmond Dam must be considered when making tough water management decisions, especially during times of drought when water quality and water supply become most critical.
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) manage permitting for all water withdrawals in the basin, including industrial, municipal, and agricultural uses.
Georgia EPD has permitted 17 public drinking water systems that use surface water sources from the Savannah River Basin, according to Ted Jackson, program manager for EPD’s drinking water program. These permits supply drinking water to an estimated 415,000 Georgia citizens, Jackson said.
On the other side of the river, South Carolina DHEC has issued nine permits for surface water withdrawals serving a total population of 790,860, according to Carol Roberts, DHEC watershed manager for the Savannah and Salkehatchie rivers.
As a federal agency, the Corps must stay in close coordination with the states to ensure reservoir outflows meet their standards for water supply. The states control the water; the Corps controls the containers.
Stay tuned for part two of this article series about water quality in the basin, including industrial permitting and the Clean Water Act. We welcome your feedback and questions in the comments section below.