Study sought before canal drains

A plan to drain the Augusta Canal and Lake Olmstead should be postponed to allow federal authorities to assess the impact it will have on fish, waterfowl and plant life in the affected areas, according to Association for Fair Government attorney Robert Mullins.


The draining, tentatively scheduled to begin this month, "will have a drastic effect on the wildlife and waterfowl," Mr. Mullins -- a resident of the Lake Olmstead area -- wrote to Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver in a letter dated Friday.

The draining -- which will empty the seven-mile channel for about two months -- was scheduled to allow workers to install a pair of 60-inch pipes that will transfer water from the canal pumping station to the city's Highland Avenue drinking-water plant.

The draining also will empty Lake Olmstead, where residents should have been given some sort of public notice, Mr. Mullins wrote.

"The only information regarding the draining has been through the newspaper and other news media."

The Army Corps of Engineers, whose regulatory branch handles environmental and permitting issues for waterways, has no requirements for such studies and does not intend to order one, said Billy Birdwell, a spokesman for the corps' Savannah District.

In response to Mr. Mullins' concerns, Mr. Birdwell checked more with the corps' regulatory branch Monday and learned no environmental studies are required.

"The draining is a temporary thing, so there is no requirement for a permit or study for something like that," he said.

City officials say there are no plans to delay the project, which is part of a long-range capital improvement to the city's drinking water system.

Drew Goins, the Augusta Utilities Department's assistant director for water production, said all resource agencies -- including Georgia Wildlife Resources Division, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, the corps and others -- were consulted early in the planning process.

The draining is tentatively scheduled to begin sometime after Jan. 19 and will take four or five days, he said.

Although emptying the lake will allow its population of fish to swim out with the water, nature would quickly restock the area once the construction is completed and the lake is refilled, according to regional fisheries biologist Ed Bettross of Georgia's Wildlife Resources Division.

"It will repopulate naturally, from fish in Rae's Creek and other creeks, and also from the Savannah River itself," he said. "The water drawn into the canal from the river will bring fish back into the canal, so it will get restocked and the population will get re-established."

Much of the plant life in Lake Olmstead -- and along the canal -- consists of unwanted species such as hydrilla, water hyacinth and Brazilian elodea. The plants choke out sunlight and create dense mats that hinder boat movement and clog water intakes at mills, he said.

Draining the area will probably help by pushing back that vegetation, Mr. Bettross said.

Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119, or