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S.C. grasping for drought-study funds

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COLUMBIA -- Before officials can take the guesswork out of water use during droughts, they’ll need to remove the uncertainty from the funding source of a proposed study.

South Carolina natural resources officials are still looking for the state’s $100,000 piece of the money necessary to work to begin with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state of Georgia on long-range planning for Savannah River Basin withdrawals during drought conditions.

The South Carolina Legislature had supported the funding initially, but it was ultimately left out of the state spending plan. Officials may try to tap county water recreation funds to pay for the study.

“In normal years we’re in pretty good shape no matter what the demands are on the river, but we haven’t had many of those years lately,” said Ken Rentiers, deputy director of Land, Water and Conservation for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, following a meeting of the S.C. Savannah River Committee.

Rentiers said the state had experienced three or four normal rainfall years in the past 15 years.

“So there are some major concerns that we need to get at this information.”

South Carolina was supposed to chip in $250,000, including $100,000 in funding. The rest would be provided through in-kind resources, such as staff support. The Nature Conservancy had stepped up to help, too, which Rentiers called “a saving grace” for the state’s effort.

Georgia would provide a comparable amount, and the corps is expected to offer up approximately $500,000 in resources.

“If you look at our drought designations, the Savannah Basin is still the worst in the state,” said David Baize, assistant bureau chief of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s bureau of water. The entire basin includes the 300-mile river and Hartwell Lake, Richard B. Russell Lake, and J. Strom Thurmond Lake.

“Without this good information and sound science on it, we’re guessing a little bit,” said Rentiers. “We want to take the guesswork out of it and have the sound science behind us to make good decisions.”

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