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 email@example.com.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.