Over the past several months the occasional fan of Balancing the Basin has voiced concern about the expansion of Plant Vogtle on the Savannah River. Most of the concern focused on the increased water needs (and impacts on reservoir levels) of the two new nuclear reactors currently under construction near Waynesboro, Georgia. Stakeholders can put away those worries because the Corps of Engineers has not been asked nor has any plans to change reservoir release rates to support the new reactors.
In December, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources issued a water withdrawal permit to the consortium building the reactors, according to press reports. The permit allows the plant to withdraw a monthly average of 62 million gallons per day with a maximum daily limit of 74 million gallons, according to the permit issued by Georgia DNR.
This sounds like lots of water until one converts those figures into measurements that readers of this blog find familiar – cubic feet per second.
Avid fans of this blog know the release rates from the Corps’ three reservoir systems vary depending on reservoir levels. These release rates meet the congressionally-mandated purposes of the reservoirs:
- Flood risk reduction
- Water supply
- Water quality
- Fish and wildlife management
- Hydropower production
- Downstream navigation
The Corps manages the basin and owns and operates its dams and reservoirs. The states of Georgia and South Carolina issue withdrawal permits for water usage since the states own that resource. But back to the calculations.
During the permitting process, state regulators received comments directly concerning the amount of water to be withdrawn for the new reactors. “EPD [Georgia Environmental Protection Division] has confirmed that the nominal make-up water usage for [Plant Vogtle’s new] Units 3 and 4 cooling towers to be approximately 86 cfs or 56 MGD and likely not to exceed 136 cfs or 88 MGD,” according to Georgia DNR’s website. Along this point in the Savannah River, removing this much water equates to 1.2 percent of the average flow rates during normal plant operations. During maximum plant operations and low flow conditions the maximum water withdrawal only equals 3.2 percent of the river flow past Plant Vogtle. To see the source for this paragraph, read page 4 of this document.
On a typical summer day, the reservoirs lose much more than 136 cfs simply to evaporation and transpiration. Readers should also note the location downstream of Plant Vogtle. Steven’s Creek and other tributaries below Thurmond Dam contribute water to the river above the nuclear station.
Conclusion: The water withdrawal permits issued to Plant Vogtle will not impact reservoir levels or releases from Thurmond Dam.
~Billy Birdwell, Senior Public Affairs Specialist