Drought could force Augusta Canal to reduce water flow

Friday, May 18, 2012 10:08 AM
Last updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 12:34 AM
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The Augusta Canal’s flow might have to be slowed temporarily this year if the worsening drought continues to affect the Savannah River.

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Plant Manager Billy Power looks over at the number 4 turbine in Sibley Mill. Water from the Augusta Canal turns turbines at Enterprise, King and Sibley mills.  SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
Plant Manager Billy Power looks over at the number 4 turbine in Sibley Mill. Water from the Augusta Canal turns turbines at Enterprise, King and Sibley mills.

“The discussion in recent months has been that this is coming – and at some point we will have to curtail,” said Augusta Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier.

The canal is a drinking-water source for about 160,000 households in the city, and its flow provides hydromechanical power that pumps raw water to the city’s filter plant off Highland Avenue, saving $1.5 million a year in energy costs.

The waterway also turns turbines at Enterprise, King and Sibley mills that generate electricity – and money – for the Augusta Canal Authority and its recreation and historic preservation projects.

City officials hope the canal authority can be persuaded to reduce power generation if a request is made to do so, Wiedmeier said.

The area of concern during low water is the Augusta shoals, a segment of the river bypassed when water is diverted into the canal, even if some of that water eventually finds its way back into the river three to seven miles downstream.

The exact flow required to be left in that “bypass” area remains in limbo until a long-delayed license for the canal is finalized by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Until then, city officials and environmental regulators adhere to a general target of at least 1,000 cubic feet per second, Wiedmeier said.

Dayton Sherrouse, the executive director of the canal authority, said current releases from Thurmond Dam – averaging about 3,800 cubic feet per second – provide a barely adequate flow.

“It can take care of Utilities and all three of mills,” he said. “But if it drops down lower than 3,800, then we are going to have reductions.”

Four years ago, before Sibley Mill was acquired by the canal authority, city officials required the previous owners to reduce power generation about 30 percent when water supplies dwindled.

Today, revenue from the three mills combined provides about 58 percent of the canal authority’s operating budget. The percentage could become even larger this fall, when legislation that provides federal money for the Augusta Canal Heritage Area will expire.

Sherrouse said he hopes any reduction in turbine use can be implemented across the board, rather than to one facility, as it has been in the past.

“The reality is, there is a finite amount of water, and in a drought that amount is reduced,” he said. “It’s a situation where everyone has to adjust and do things a little differently.”

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rmwardsr 05/18/12 - 10:47 am
If you really want to know

If you really want to know why their is a reduction in the flow of the Savannah River, and why our lake is down nearly seven feet, there are two reasons. First, on hwy 378 out of Licolnton, the bridge that crosses Lake Thurmond into South Carolina is being replaced. So I would imagine the water is being kept lower to facilitate construction of the new bridge. Also if you will go on up to HWY 72, and ride across the Lake Russell bridge that seperates the state lines, you will notice that that Lake Russell is filled to capacity, and that is the main reason we are experiencin lower water levels and reduced water flow.

JohnBrownAug 05/18/12 - 11:28 am
Little Lamb
Little Lamb 05/18/12 - 11:54 am
One of our own

Go back and read paragraph 10 up above.

When a private company owned the mill, the city took them to court and got a judgment to force the private company to stop producing electricity, which led to their selling the mill to the Canal Authority. Now that a governmental entity owns the mill, the city uses kid gloves, a la paragraph 5.

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