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Drought expected to continue as Thurmond Lake level falls

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If history is any guide, 2012 is shaping up to be a dry and dismal year, especially for upstate reservoirs along the Savannah River.

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Several people fish from a bank that is underwater when Thurmond Lake is at full level. The lake is already 5.6 feet lower than it was at this time last year and is expected to further recede as dry conditions persist.   JIM BLAYLOCK/STAFF
JIM BLAYLOCK/STAFF
Several people fish from a bank that is underwater when Thurmond Lake is at full level. The lake is already 5.6 feet lower than it was at this time last year and is expected to further recede as dry conditions persist.

According to data kept by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers since 1954, Thurmond Lake’s average pool for April – 322.2 feet above sea level – is already 5.6 feet lower than this time last year.

Lower April pools were recorded just five times in 58 years, coinciding with some of the worst droughts on record, in 1955, 1988-89, 2002 and 2008.

Part of the culprit this year has been a persistent La Nina weather pattern that lingered through the winter into spring.

“That’s why March was so warm and so dry,” said Georgia State Climatologist Bill Murphey, whose most recent forecast calls for little relief in coming months.

“The anticipation is still drier than normal and warmer than normal,” he said. “Normally, we expect a lot more precipitation this time of year.”

According to the National Drought Mitigation Center in Nebraska, much of Georgia – including the eastern portion of the state around Augusta – already is experiencing “extreme drought” that could worsen if more rainfall doesn’t materialize soon.

“Isolated thunderstorms don’t do it,” Murphey said. “You need that long, gradual soaking rain that helps put moisture back into the soil, and right now we don’t seem to be getting much of that. Everywhere you look, stream flows are still very low and groundwater conditions are dry, too.”

The Corps of Engineers is already looking ahead to a dry year and is working to modify its Drought Management Plan, which is designed to soften the impact of droughts that have created drastically low lake levels in past years.

The newest version of the plan, released Friday for public comment, calls for further – and earlier – reductions in flows from the lake into the Savannah River as lake levels fall.

The plan would also leave lower flows intact for longer periods, slowing the lake’s decline and making recovery easier when rainfall resumes.

Regardless of what plans are in place to manage drought, the only resolution is abundant and immediate rainfall, which both Murphey and South Carolina State Climatologist Hope Mizzell believe is unlikely.

Stream flows in South Carolina counties that adjoin the lake and other Savannah River reservoirs are less than 25 percent of normal, Mizzell told The Associated Press.

Without the winter and spring rains that recharge lakes and groundwater reserves, the best hope for enough precipitation to rehydrate the region lies with tropical weather systems that could arrive in late summer or early fall.

Comments (4) Add comment
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Riverman1
90646
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Riverman1 04/17/12 - 02:31 pm
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There are agreements in place

There are agreements in place about required flow into the river. For those of us who live along the river and others who use it for over its 100 mile length to the ocean understand lower flows are detrimental for it also and to the shellfish industry around Savannah. Simply lowering flows without regard to the effects on the river are misguided.

The Corps takes comments about such matters and I encourage everyone to email their concerns. The current regional COE commander is responsive as was the last one. What we seriously need are a couple of hurricanes to come in from the gulf and stall over the state.

Cecile
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Cecile 04/17/12 - 08:08 am
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I understand Riverman's

I understand Riverman's concerns, but dont forget those of us who have property on the lake. We also care about our levels. Those of you on the river havent suffered at all. You seem to have your water every year. Yet, we get lower and lower. There are more hazards of the low levels on the lake than on the river. Why do you think you should maintain your level by not slowing the flow? The Corp should slow the flow until we get the much needed rain.

Riverman1
90646
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Riverman1 04/17/12 - 02:41 pm
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Cecile, I, too, understand

Cecile, I, too, understand your concern. We are all in this together and desperately need rain. But the difference is the river is dependent on adequate flow because of industrial and public water consumption and sewage treatment. Aquatic life is also affected as has been documented with numerous studies. In the lake fish can retreat into deeper water when the level is down, but when the river is down there is far less area for them to retreat to.

Realize the tributaries that flow into the river drop when the flow in the main river is not maintained. That, in fact, does leave them and coves along the river dry as with the lake folks. The same hazards with stumps are present in the river when it's low.

I know we're all ticked with the lack of water, but these last few years have been so unusual with the lack of rain. It HAS to change before long.

I've attended conferences with the COE, Clemson experts, DNR and others. One thing that was thrown out as a possibility is creating a smaller lake. In other words, giving the residents the land on out to a new shoreline.

David Parker
7923
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David Parker 04/18/12 - 11:51 am
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HAH HAAH drought. In your

HAH HAAH drought. In your face. It's coming down out there!

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