Rob Pavey blogs green issues and the outdoors life

A new kind of Border Bash: Can Georgia and South Carolina avoid clashes over the Savannah River?

South Carolina had little to say last month when Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue’s Water Task Force mentioned using the Savannah River to shore up Atlanta’s dwindling supply. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t watching. They were.

Now the state that shares the 250-mile river with Georgia—but uses far less of its water—is taking some actions of its own to stay in the loop as lofty new discussions emerge about the region’s largest and most important waterway.

For the record, Atlanta isn’t formally proposing to take water from the Savannah River. But Gov. Perdue’s task force—ordered to evaluate all reasonable options—did include the withdrawal of 100 million gallons per day from Lake Hartwell (a Savannah River lake) as a feasible way to offer more water to residents in Gwinnett County.

The resulting clamor from local governments and environmental groups opposed to interbasin transfers led to a more detailed explanation from the governor’s office: that it was simply an “option that needed to be studied,” but that such transfers would never be included in any final plan.

Nonetheless, and not by coincidence, South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources and its Department of Health & Environmental Control decided to establish a Savannah River Basin Water Resource Forum, which will hold its inaugural meeting Jan. 21 in the North Augusta Municipal Center.

Everyone is invited—even folks from Georgia.

DHEC spokesman Adam Myrick said the creation of the forum wasn’t solely in response to Georgia’s recent discussions about water supply options. But it played a major role.

“It’ll certainly be something that will be talked about—no question about that,” he told me today. “We know it’s a concern for residents and stakeholders on both sides of the river. It may not have specifically driven this event, but it certainly played a role.”

The Savannah, with its wide, meandering channel and mammoth upstate lakes that cover 156,000 surface acres, seems almost inexhaustible. But don’t bet on it.

By some estimates, industries and municipalities on the Georgia side already encumber as much as 90 percent of the river’s ability to dissipate wastewater, and South Carolina, ultimately, may want a larger share. Plant Vogtle’s existing reactors withdraw 64 million gallons per day, and two additional units planned at the site will raise that total to 117.6 million gallons a day.

In the future, if there isn’t enough to make everyone happy, tough decisions will have to be made—especially during droughts.

Such issues will make the upcoming meetings lively, Myrick said.

“It’s an opportunity to open up—in a more formal way—to get feedback from stakeholders, anyone who has an interest in how the river is managed,” he said. “It’s also a mechanism for us to get information to them.”

One possible reason South Carolina has been so silent on the issue of interbasin transfers in Georgia is that it is already doing the same thing. The Beaufort-Jasper Water System near the coast and the Upstate Greenville Water System are authorized to pump as much as 216 million gallons per day in such transfers, although the actual usage is much less.

Greenville’s use of water from Lake Keowee (a part of the Savannah River Basin) was permitted under the Interbasin Transfer Act, granted in 1985, by what was then the South Carolina Water Resources Commission.

It also expires in 2016, by the way, which leaves the issue potentially open to renegotiation. Even Georgia might have something to say.

Georgia is also holding its own water meeting—just two days before the one scheduled by South Carolina. Georgia’s Joint Regional Water Planning Council will meet Jan. 19 at the Boathouse in Augusta.

IF YOU GO
- Georgia’s Joint Regional Water Planning Council: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Jan. 19, the Boathouse, 101 Riverfront Drive. Contact Jeff Larson, assistant chief of Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s Watershed Protection Branch, (404) 675-1664 or e-mail jeff.larson@dnr.state.ga.us.
- South Carolina’s Savannah River Basin Regional Water Resource Forum: 1 to 4 p.m. Jan. 21, North Augusta Municipal Center, Palmetto Terrace Ballroom. Contact Rebecca Spratlin, S.C. Department of Health & Environmental Control Water Planning Division, (803) 898-4355, or e-mail to spratlrh@dhec.sc.gov.

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gargoyle
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gargoyle 01/07/10 - 04:11 pm
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Just a question .... Has

Just a question .... Has their been any agreement that trumps the Supreme Court's decision in the late 1800's concerning the Savannah River ? This clash has been to the highest court in the land and unless it has been recended law is on the books .....

Rob Pavey
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Rob Pavey 01/07/10 - 04:34 pm
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hi beckybug, I'm not sure

hi beckybug,

I'm not sure which decision you're asking about, but it sounds interesting - can you email me more details and I will try to look into it for you (and for our future coverage, if warranted). My email is rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com

thanks,

robbie

gargoyle
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gargoyle 01/07/10 - 09:32 pm
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The courts have upheld

The courts have upheld theTreaty of Beaufort ( 178? ) and at one point S.C. traded water rights for money to build a port . The states took the ownership of lands to court many times and the Treaty of Beaufort has been upheld by federal courts ... The high courts decison around 187? would be a good starting point for checking the many twists and turns over the fight for the Savannah .... Most of the cases center on the mouth of the river and the islands at the port .... 200 years of fighting over one river and acounts can be found of armys being formed and pointing weapons at each other to prove the their point ...

foxjamin
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foxjamin 01/08/10 - 12:25 am
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One point that needs to be

One point that needs to be considered when you look at water withdrawals, the consumptive withdrawal amount is the really important figure.  Having worked with companies on water issues for several years I have come to find out that most companies return most 70-80% of the water they withdraw to the river which they withdraw from.  There is plenty of water in the Savannah River for withdrawals, the real issue is the assimilative capacity for discharges. 

 

foxjamin
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foxjamin 01/08/10 - 12:30 am
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One point that needs to be

One point that needs to be considered when you look at water withdrawals, the consumptive withdrawal amount is the really important figure.  Having worked with companies on water issues for several years I have come to find out that most companies return most 70-80% of the water they withdraw to the river which they withdraw from.  There is plenty of water in the Savannah River for withdrawals, the real issue is the assimilative capacity for discharges. 

 

Rob Pavey
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Rob Pavey 01/08/10 - 08:51 am
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foxjamin, you are correct.

foxjamin, you are correct. mjuch of the water - but not all of it - finds its way back into the river basin, sometimes even as groundwater. even Vogtle returns a portion of its cooling water - directly to the river. The nuclear regulatory commission documents say vogtle's withdrawal is about 1 percent of the river's "average" flow, which is about 9,000 cubic feet per second. during drought, it drops to about 3,000 but there is still ample water for withdrawal, but water quality diminishes. By the way - the fact that some water is returned is part of the concern over interbasin transfers - once it's pumped elsewhere, it's permanently absent from its basin of origin.

tbonitatibus
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tbonitatibus 01/09/10 - 11:00 am
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Beckybuy, I would like to

Beckybuy, I would like to get a copy of any court cases you might have also if possible riverkeeper@savannahriverkeeper.org

Foxjamin, The way I see it, you have hit the nail on the head with the assimilative capacity of the river. She can't take much more polution, keep in mind we are rated #4 in the nation for toxic releases into her waters. In fact, GA EPD states that she is at her max capacity for assimilative capacity of many toxins released into her waters.  The big issue is, if you allow various entities to take water out of the river (especially if they don't plan to return it) and you continue to dump the amount of currently permitted polution into the river, you end up with dangerous water quality issues. It must be kept in mind at all times that Savannah, Hilton Head, Bluffton and many more all drink from the Savannah. The city of Savannah is ever increasing its reliance on the river, and I believe Hilton Head and Bluffton drink exclusively from the river. Couple that with the states moto of "the solution to polution is dilution" and an ever growing desire upstream for folks to keep their water, you end up with a rather dire situation at the end of the line.

I am rather excited about SC forming a task force, and am looking forward to participating in the process. Our river has a long way to go before she is clean, and the more our governement entities look at her as an entire basin, rather than dividing her up into "economic zones" the better chance we have at really improving water quality for all of us, fish included :) I encourage folks to take this opportunity to research conditions of the river, and participate in the process also.

Dixieman
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Dixieman 01/13/10 - 12:07 am
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NO water for Atlanta!!!

NO water for Atlanta!!!

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