The Army Corps of Engineers will abandon its plan to temporarily reduce flows in the Savannah River more than specified in its drought plan.
“After examining all the public and agency comments, and recognizing we are presently in a Level 1 drought, we decided that the risks of potential adverse environmental impacts exceed the benefits which would be obtained by reducing flows from the Savannah River reservoirs for such a short time this year,” said Col. Jeff Hall, the corps’ Savannah District commander.
Under the proposal, for which the corps conducted a formal Environmental Assessment, releases from the dam into the Savannah River could be held to 3,600 cubic feet per second from Jan. 1 to Feb. 15, even though the agency’s official drought plan would allow releases of 4,200 cubic feet per second.
The intent was to slow the decline of lake levels during extended dry periods.
Although 365 people—mostly lake-area residents—sent comments supporting the plan, the corps determined that avoiding adverse downstream impacts to the environment, wildlife and estuaries outweigh any short term benefits in keeping the lakes a little bit higher.
Federal and state natural resource agencies, including NOAA Fisheries, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the S.C. Department of Natural Resources objected to the reduction, citing potential impacts to spawning areas used by the endangered shortnose sturgeon, water flows needed in the Augusta shoals and water quality in Savannah Harbor.
The lake’s normal full pool during the recreation season is 330 feet above sea level, with slightly lower averages during the winter months. On Friday, the lake’s water level was 324.27.