By Tracy Robillard, Public Affairs Specialist
Editor’s Note: This article is the second 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.
We often hear that water quality is a purpose of the reservoirs, but what exactly is meant by the term? Water quality means ensuring water in the basin meets environmental standards established by Georgia and South Carolina state agencies. These standards set a range of acceptable levels for dissolved oxygen, salinity, pH levels, and other factors.
“The water quality standards are the foundation of water quality protection programs in the state,” said Carol Roberts, watershed manager for the Savannah and Salkehatchie rivers with the South Carolina Department of Health and Control (DHEC). “The standards help protect freshwater uses such as public water supply, recreation, fishing, aquatic life, industrial, and navigational purposes.”
Industrial use of the river plays a major role in water quality. Municipalities and industries throughout the basin discharge treated waste water into the river in compliance with state permitting requirements. This requires a continuous flow of water from the reservoirs to assimilate or dilute the wastewater. As the saying goes, “the solution to pollution is dilution.” This process becomes even more critical during drought and the summer months when water temperatures rise and dissolved oxygen levels naturally drop.
Georgia and South Carolina base their permitting rules on the established minimum outflows in the Corps of Engineers’ Savannah River Basin drought plan. This helps ensure clean water for all basin users in both states.
Similarly, the states plan and construct water intakes and other infrastructure based on water levels that occur from minimum outflows from the basin’s federal reservoirs—lakes Hartwell, Richard B. Russell, and J. Strom Thurmond. Currently, the minimum operating outflow from the basin during severe drought is 3,600 cubic feet per second (3,100 cfs November through January).
The Clean Water Act is the basic federal law designed to control water pollution in U.S. waters. It prohibits the discharge of any pollutant into U.S. waters unless permitted under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) currently has 171 active NPDES permits for the discharge of wastewater into the basin, according to Ted Jackson, program manager for EPD’s drinking water program. On the other side of the river, South Carolina DHEC has 48, Roberts said.
“Decades of human development along the river, including industrial developments, have changed the natural landscape of the river,” said Melissa Wolf, a Corps of Engineers natural resource specialist. “Therefore, it’s critical for the Corps to coordinate with the state and federal natural resource agencies to maintain the long-term health of the river and its delicate ecosystems.”
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