More than a decade after litigation ended over Russell Dam’s reversible turbines, the Army Corps of Engineers was cleared Saturday to operate all four hydropower units at one time during the hot summer months when they are most needed.
“We have not yet fired up all four at one time, but we’ve officially made notice they are all available,” said Keith Crowe, Russell’s operations project manager.
The dam has four conventional turbines and four reversible “pump-back” units that can pump water from Thurmond Lake back into Lake Russell for reuse in power generation.
The pumpback technology, which is known to cause fish kills, spurred environmental lawsuits that lingered for 14 years before a 2002 settlement that required the corps to complete certain mitigation measures before it could operate all four units at one time.
The last court-ordered mitigation project was an oxygen system, completed in 2011 near Modoc, S.C., that was designed to provide a warm weather habitat for striped bass and other species that otherwise might migrate upstream to the base of Russell Dam, where they could be endangered by the turbines.
The oxygen system was completed in 2011 and tested successfully in 2012, but mechanical repairs with
the pumped storage units prevented their use last year.
As of June 1, all four reversible units are mechanically available and the oxygen system is operational, Crowe said.
The operational green light also triggers the final five years of a court-ordered environmental monitoring plan designed to evaluate the project’s effect on the environment and fish populations.
Jamie Sykes, the corps’ district fisheries biologist, said the monitoring
includes several studies in varying stages of completion.
A striped bass telemetry study is underway using transmitters implanted in stripers. Researchers are evaluating whether the oxygen system helps keep fish downstream closer to Thurmond Dam during warm weather.
Other studies, Sykes said, include water quality assessments in both Thurmond and Russell, hydroacoustic monitoring at Russell to gauge how many fish are entrained as the turbines are reversed, creel studies and a new “whole-lake” fish population estimate.