Savannah River's lower pool challenges boaters, swimmers

Adjustments that lowered the Savannah River’s pool level by 1.5 feet during the summer have made boat ramps more challenging to use – especially for larger vessels.


“The bigger boats are not coming in and out much at all,” said Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus, whose office overlooks the city of Augusta’s largest boat ramp adjacent to the Boathouse facility.

The river channel along downtown Augusta was lowered 3 feet – from 115.5 feet above sea level to 112.5 feet – to accommodate a June 19 herbicide application.

Although the pool was partly restored after the weed control program was completed, officials decided to hold the elevation at 114 feet above sea level – about 1.5 feet lower than it has been in recent years.

John Stokes, who lives on the river, said lower water has left boat owners with fewer options. Ramps on the Augusta side, he said, are now unable to accommodate his 22-foot boat, which he has been able to launch only at the North Augusta ramp.

“That one has been extended recently, but it is also steep,” he said.

Boaters in the river also have come closer to submerged pilings and other obstacles that can damage props and hulls.

Bonitatibus and others familiar with the channel have noticed a surge in aquatic weed growth that could be linked to shallower water that allows more sunlight to reach the weed beds.

“From the air, you can see that the herbicides helped, and the Georgia side is cleaner than the South Carolina side, but it is coming back with a vengeance,” she said.

Lower water levels could become a concern with the Sept. 30 ESi Ironman 70.3 event, during which about 3,000 competitors will swim from the Fifth Street marina to an exit point downstream near the Boathouse.

Randy DuTeau, the sports development manager for the Greater Augusta Sports Council, said officials are not aware of any complaints about weeds or low water but always take whatever steps are necessary to make the event as safe as possible.

“Those concerns have not been brought to me, but if we wanted to raise the water level for the event, we would do that by asking to have the gates adjusted several days ahead,” he said.

Water levels downtown are controlled by the gates at New Savannah Bluff Dam near Augusta Regional Airport and can be adjusted by the Army Corps of Engineers.

“We handle those kinds of requests on a case-by-case basis,” corps spokesman Billy Birdwell said. “We haven’t been asked about it for this particular event, but this is certainly something we can consider.”

The dam’s dilapidated condition, and the desire to reduce pressure on the 75-year-old structure, are the reasons the corps decided to maintain lower levels this year.

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