The good, the bad, and the possible

The graph shows Lake Hartwell’s projected levels through April. The basin recently entered Drought Level I after rainfall pushed lake levels two feet above Drought Level 2.

Lake lovers got their Valentine’s Day gift last week from Mother Nature as Lake Hartwell pushed past its February rainfall average and the Savannah River Basin finally entered Drought Level 1.

The achievement brings the basin one step closer to recovering from the drought that began more than two years ago.

All the recent cloudiness has brightened the outlook for the next 10 weeks.

Stan Simpson, water manager for Savannah District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the basin should be halfway between Drought Level 1 and the guide curve – just two feet below full pool – by April.

The basin had been in Drought Level 2 since October 2016. The water manual requires Hartwell and Thurmond reservoirs be two feet above Drought Level 2 to shift into Drought Level 1 operations. This also increases the minimum weekly average release rates to 4,200 cfs.

In the three months leading up to February, the rainfall was dismal but got progressively better.

Each of the sub-basins made strides in January, collecting more than 80 percent of their average; Hartwell was out in front with 4.3 inches (compared to its 5.2-inch average), while Thurmond and Russell received 3.6 and 3.5 inches, respectively (both compared to a 4.3-inch average).


While 80 percent of average isn’t ideal, it’s a step up from the previous months, which were as low as 18 to 40 percent of the monthly average.

As we look to the rest of February and March, traditionally two of the wettest months, here’s hoping that the future is a brighter shade of overcast.

~ Jeremy S. Buddemeier, Corporate Communications Office

About US Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District oversees a multimillion dollar military construction program at 11 Army and Air Force installations in Georgia and North Carolina. We also manage water resources across the Coastal Georgia region, including maintenance dredging of the Savannah and Brunswick harbors; operation of three hydroelectric dams and reservoirs along the upper Savannah River; and administration of an extensive stream and wetland permitting and mitigation program within the state of Georgia. Follow us on Twitter @SavannahCorps and on
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10 Responses to The good, the bad, and the possible

  1. Clay says:

    So, the lake level comes up and the Corps lets out more water. What could possibly go wrong?

    • emac1234 says:

      When Feb 1st came and nature saw saw a couple of more feet of water in the lake, the entire natural ecology of the basin changed instantly and required an increase of water. Remember, they have years of knowledge on hydrology and it is a scientific discipline in which we cannot possibly understand. Keeping release rates at 3600 or 3800 for another few weeks would destroy the environment. They are following the law and cannot deviate.

      ………….and the politicians can’t figure out why polls do not show a lot of confidence in our gvt.

  2. Mark Welborn says:

    So, apparently lower basin needs (sewer water dilution, water plant supply etc.) have been adequately met with the reduced flow. Why would the Corp then increase out flows from Thurmond before the lakes are at full pool? This kind of illogical following of the “plan” when it’s not necessary creates the perception to citizens of the upper basin region that their needs are not serious concerns of Corp management.

    • David Ackerman says:

      EXACTLY!! They are going to increase releases according to the “plan” but the “plan” is flawed, and even the revised plan will be flawed in the same manner.

    • US Army Corps of Engineers says:

      Thanks for the question Mark. The answer lies in federal requirements to have a water manual that establishes operating procedures covering varying conditions – every condition beyond the extraordinary. Part of the manual includes a drought contingency plan. This plan incorporates years of knowledge on the hydrology of water movement, which is a developed scientific discipline. It also incorporates adjustments by season in response to ecological changes that would affect habitats and other human requirements related to the river. Throughout development and modification of this plan we have maintained coordination with all the state and federal agencies. Based on established knowledge and agency review, this plan represents the most comprehensive scientific approach based on the needs of the entire basin. And if credible, empirical data were not enough, the plan is also the only lawful operating procedures for the Savannah River Basin. We are not free to deviate from this plan over weather predictions, or for any other reason on our own authority. I hope this helps. ~Russell Wicke

  3. David Ackerman says:

    So we entered level 1 and the Corps is increasing flow. Now one of 3 things will happen. 1) Rainfall will be abundant and the lake will rise to full pool. 2) Rainfall will continue to be below average and at best the level will remain where it is now. 3) We’ll receive no rainfall in the next couple months and the lake will be 4 ft below full pool at start of summer. In all three of these cases, the Corps is releasing the same amount of water. Therein lies the problem. Not that it would even help in any of these situations since it sounds like drought plan “alternative 2” is being favored, but when is the alternative drought plan going to be finalized and implemented?

    • US Army Corps of Engineers says:

      Thanks for your comment David. Experience has shown that making operating decisions based on weather forecasts is a bad idea. Our procedures rule this kind of operation out of the question. The draft release of the Comp Study report has been delayed a few months, and we now expect it some time in September. ~Russell Wicke

  4. Jerry Clontz says:

    The Corps’ logic appears to be leave it all to mother nature and forget human intelligence. Many times in the past when recovering from severe droughts the corps has kept releases at minimums until the lakes recovered. But in the recent drought recovery the Corps refused to use common sense and continued increasing release rates above the established safe minimums. So thank you mother nature and shame on you Corps.

  5. Johnny Landreth says:

    Well I was wanting to bragg on the corps for allowing the water to come up, but I guess that won’t last, since you are going to increase the outward flow again. If we could remain at 3600 to 3700, We could achieve full pool by May or maybe the first of April. I thought when we met a few months ago that we were going to reduce the flow until we recovered from the 2 year drought. The demand for hydro is going to be lower since warmer weather is setting in early. I was hoping that decisions could be made that would allow the tensions to relax within the Corps of Engineers and with the citizens of the upstate of South Carolina. The corps needs to react faster to conditions on ,the lake. Unnecessary draw downs causes extreme soil erosion which will eventually clog the channels in our lakes.

  6. Tom Deus says:


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