Lake residents chide Corps at drought plan workshop

Augusta area residents participate in a workshop on the US Army Corps of Engineers new drought-contingency plan Monday at North Augusta’s Municipal Center.

With less than a day left in a 30-day comment period on a new drought-contingency plan, the US Army Corps of Engineers came to North Augusta on Wednesday to see if area residents had any.

 

They did, and not many of them were congratulatory.

Residents of homes around Thurmond Lake were particularly forceful in complaining about fluctuating water levels there.

“I’m tired of my dock sitting on dirt,” said Joann Skinner. “Now there’s grass growing up around it and my husband has to go down there and cut the grass.”

Corps personnel told her the new plan, which would release water from the lake sooner in times of drought – “triggering” when the lake drops to 324 feet above sea level instead of 316 feet – would help stabilize lake levels.

But when others began chiming in with similar complaints, and questioned whether officials considered recreational users of the lake in their plans, Nathan Dayan, of the Corps’ Planning Division, told them: “One of (the Corps’) authorized purposes is recreation. But the definition is different from what landowners think recreation is. We’re not responsible for maintaining the value of your property adjacent to the lake. That’s not what we, the federal government, define as recreation.”

Dayan said the agency came up with six options for the new drought-contingency plan and compared each to doing nothing. Alternative 2 was judged to be the best.

It includes the new “trigger” and will, according to information presented at Wednesday’s workshop:

• Maintain pools — like the one Augusta and North Augusta rely on — at slightly higher levels during droughts

• Increase the number of days lake beaches would be closed

• Increase number of days boat ramps would be available

• Improve fish-spawning habitats

It would also cut the typical amount of water released during a drought from 4,000 cubic feet per second to 3,800 . The Corps is required to keep the flow in the river at a minimum of 3,600 cubic feet per second to maintain oxygen levels for fish.

On Wednesday, the flow was 4,000 cubic feet per second, according to Russell Wicke, a Corps spokesman. The lake level was 324.6 feet above sea level, about 5.5 feet below its full pool of 330.

Alternative 2 is now considered the Tentative Selected Plan. The Corps is supposed to respond to comments by Aug. 9, and complete a final Savannah District report by Sept. 4. Final approval by the South Atlantic Division of the Corps is expected by Oct. 10.

The plan considered flood risk management, hydropower, recreation, environmental stewardship, navigation, water quality and water supply, Dayan said. The plan takes into account the impacts on the river from above Lakes Russell and Hartwell to Savannah, he said.

The comment period for citizens ends at noon Thursday , but Dayan said he’d likely accept those that came in after deadline.

Reach James Folker at (706) 823-3338 or james.folker@augustachronicle.com.

How to comment

Comments can be sent electronically to cesas-pd@usace.army.mil or by mail to USACE Savannah District, ATTN: Planning Section, 100 W. Oglethorpe Ave., Savannah GA 31401-3604.

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