Don't blame Corps of Engineers for rising water

New year’s weekend might not have been the perfect time to visit the lake, but at least the ducks were happy.

Rising water levels swamped boat ramps, submerged retaining walls and turned courtesy docks into islands – all due to the wettest December since the Corps of Engineers started recordkeeping in 1948.

Just a year ago, though, the lake languished at 15 feet below full pool and had not been “filled” for three years.

Although some folks tried to blame the corps for stealing all the water, rational minds know the lake’s fluctuations are governed by Mother Nature. The corps’ management role is limited to tweaking the floodgates to minimize flooding downstream.

During 2013, as rainfall returned, the lake recovered during one of the wettest years in recent memory.

The month of December, for example, yielded 8.5 inches of rain across the Savannah River Basin, setting a new record and soaring 220 percent beyond the average of 3.9 inches.

What’s next? You can expect plenty of water flowing down the Savannah River for the immediate future, and if it creates problems, you can bet someone will blame the corps.

SPEAKING OF DOWNSTREAM: Six boats at the city marina in downtown Augusta ended up floating free last Thursday after they were cut from their moorings by vandals.

Georgia Department of Natural Resources officers and Augusta Fire Rescue, along with Savannah Riverkeeper staffers, tried to locate and recover the boats, but were unable to find all of them.

Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus said officials also noticed a broken cable several miles downstream at New Savannah Bluff, which might indicate one or more of the boats might have ended up in the lower Savannah River.

What’s next? Do boat owners have to use a chain and padlock to keep their vessels safe?

DEER PLAN UPDATE: The coming year will be an important one for Georgia’s 380,000 deer hunters, as wildlife authorities prepare to revise the state’s official “deer management plan” that will outline the path forward for the next decade.

The current plan was created in 2005 and relied on the best data of that period to set seasons and bag limits and devise strategies to control suburban deer and reduce crop damage and motor vehicle strikes.

With all the changes that have occurred over the past decade, including the expansion of coyotes, increasing numbers of hunters and new trends in the timber industry, it will be interesting to see how the new strategy differs.

Whitetails are not only the state’s most popular game animal, but they are also the driver for a multi-billion dollar economic engine and a creature that can affect everyone, including farmers and motor vehicle owners.

The state’s hunting season for deer ended Jan. 1 for the northern counties, while Southern Zone hunters have until Jan. 15 to add a little more venison to the freezer.

Annual deer harvest numbers have declined in many Southern states, including Georgia, although the reasons remain unclear.

Although it will be months before the 2013-14 harvest is calculated, the 385,410 deer taken during 2012-13 reflected a decline of 26,072 deer from 2011-12, when 411,481 deer were killed.

That 2011-12 sum showed a decline of 38,369 deer from 2010-11, when hunters killed an estimated 449,850 whitetails.

RANGERS HONORED: Four rangers with DNR’s Law Enforcement Division were honored for bravery and heroism recently at the 2013 Governor’s Public Safety Awards ceremony.

Cpl. Michael Crawley, who has worked in the division’s Thomson regional office, was recognized for helping in the 10-hour rescue last March of four lost hunters on the Ogeechee River.

Crawley located the hunters in waist deep water approximately a mile from the river bank. One of the men panicked when he was instructed to swim and Crawley had to dive in to rescue him.

Upon finally getting all four victims to land, the ranger helped to build a fire to warm them until extraction from the area could be completed the next morning.

Other honorees included Ranger First Class David Brady and Sgt. Chris Hodge, who were instrumental in the saving of a boating incident victim on Manhead Sound near St. Simons Island last June. Their hands-on help with pulling a person from underneath a stranded vessel before high tide came in and as shock set in on the victim was truly critical to his survival.

The fourth honoree was Sgt. Mark Carson, who joined a Brunswick police officer in helping to prevent a potential suicide jumper from leaping from the Sidney Lanier Bridge.

Both officers engaged the distressed person in conversation, and when timing was just right, were able to grab the potential victim from the bridge barrier and pull him to safety.

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