Low river flow means choices for Augusta Canal users

Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012 4:43 PM
Last updated 10:34 PM
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Lower flows into the Savannah River will require similar reductions in the volume of water diverted into the Augusta Canal.

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Sabine Reynoso (from left); her son, Nicolas; nephew Nils Lampert; and sister, Katharina Lampert, visit the Savannah River rapids. Flows from Thurmond Dam have been cut to conserve water in the parched reservoir.   EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Sabine Reynoso (from left); her son, Nicolas; nephew Nils Lampert; and sister, Katharina Lampert, visit the Savannah River rapids. Flows from Thurmond Dam have been cut to conserve water in the parched reservoir.

“Now that they’ve gone down to 3,100 cubic feet per second, it does present some problems,” Augusta Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier said.
The Army Corps of Engineers recently cut flows from Thurmond Dam into the river from 3,800 to 3,100 cubic feet per second to conserve water in the drought-parched reservoir.

The change means there is no longer enough flow in the river to fulfill the needs of the canal – a source of drinking water and hydropower – and also maintain a minimum flow in the river’s environmentally fragile shoals.

“We had been putting close to 3,000 cubic feet per second into the canal,” Wiedmeier said, “and we have indicated we would strive to keep between 1,000 and 1,500 cubic feet per second in the shoals.”

Without enough water for both purposes, officials want to reduce the canal’s intake by 500 cubic feet per second, which will require the Augusta Canal Authority to scale down hydropower production from its revenue-producing turbines at Sibley, King and Enterprise mills.

“We are working with (canal authority Director) Dayton Sherrouse, and we have been in touch with Georgia officials and the Corps of Engineers to let them know what we are working on,” Wiedmeier said.

The reduction will be accomplished by gradually adjusting the canal’s headgates, after which the velocity of the turbines will be scaled back.

“You can slow turbines by closing the wicket gates, and instead of using 100 percent water, they can move down to 80 percent,” Wiedmeier said. The slower movement of the generators will also reduce power, he said.

The canal is also used for Augusta’s drinking water and for hydromechanical power to pump raw water from the city pumping station on the canal to the treatment plant on Highland Avenue.

There are no plans to curtail raw water pumping or drinking-water production, although the city does have diesel pumps that could pump raw water to the treatment plant without using the canal’s flow.

Using those pumps, however, would cost about $10,000 a day, Wiedmeier said, so that would be done only in extreme emergencies.

The canal, built in 1845 and enlarged after the Civil War, allows much of the river’s flow to bypass the 4.5-mile stretch of rocky shoals.

Much of the diverted canal water is returned to the river through downstream spillways at the pumping station and the mills downtown.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other resource agencies want Augusta to maintain minimum flows in the shoals to benefit the fish, plants and wildlife that live there.

The “bypass” area is the last remaining stretch of such habitat on the Savannah River. Similar areas were once abundant but were destroyed as the river was dammed into three major upstate reservoirs, starting with Thurmond Dam above Augusta.

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soapy_725 11/15/12 - 11:22 am
Fooling with Mother Nature

They need to bring back those commercials that show the dangers of fooling with Mother Nature.

"In the beginning" the point of upstream navigation of the Savannah ended at the "New Savannah Bluffs". Then a government dam and locks was built to move this up to Augusta to allow for the growing river commercial and private traffic up from Savannah. Then we needed massive amounts of electricity to fuel the making of heavy water and nuclear bombs. Another government dam was build that reduced the flow of water to Augusta and its now non existent commercial use of the river from Savanah to the bluffs to the riverfront.

Now we are not making bombs? So the massive amounts of electricity are diverted to the N.E. GRID, where we recently learned it may or not be used at low peak times and is therefore wasted energy. Can't store it. Don't want to store it. You have to be ready for peak. You charge more at peak. The PSC has seen to that problem.

We once survived on "falling water power" for almost everything from food processing, clothing, to tools and machinery. Clean, efficient and renewable.

jerryclontz 11/15/12 - 02:34 pm
Augusta is dealing with a time bomb on water supply

We at Save Our Lakes Now have been trying to get everyone to understand that unless early reaction to drought occurs we could destroy the whole Savannah River System. The Corps refuses to act soon enough and Augusta leadership has failed to grasp the gravity of the situation. A good first effort to correct this lack of understanding would be to look at our web sites www.saveourlakesnow.org and/or www.lakethurmondlevel.blogspot.com. It's going to take a joint effort to get the Corps to get this right.

Riverman1 11/15/12 - 06:16 pm
If anyone has a solution to

If anyone has a solution to maintaining adequate flows in the river and canal without releasing adequate volume from Thurmond Lake, please tell me.

avidreader 11/15/12 - 08:30 pm
So Sad!

It won't be long before Atlanta starts tapping into the watershed. It's not a matter of IF, but WHEN. The Canal Authority workers should start looking for alternative employment. The Petersburg boats cannot skip across rocks and sand shoals.

jerryclontz 11/19/12 - 09:28 am
Keeping Water In River

One response asked how do you keep water in the river with reduced flows. The question needs to be how do you keep the lake at levels high enough to still have control over releases. The answer is to stop waiting until the lakes are exhausted before dropping release rates. The drought of record put 3600cfs into the lakes averaged over a years time. If we hold releases to 3600 from the time the drought starts we should never lose the lakes and we should always have control over how much can be released so that the canal authority will have a predictable flow to work with. This approach also means the lakes would refill quickly and normal releases resumed more quickly.

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