Originally created 02/03/01

EPD asks state for $500,000 to study area water



Georgia's Environmental Protection Division has asked state legislators for $500,000 to finance portions of an ongoing study of water use issues affecting the Savannah River and its three reservoirs, including Thurmond Lake.

The long-term study, approved in concept in June, is a joint effort among Georgia, South Carolina and the Army Corps of Engineers, which manages lakes Thurmond, Hartwell and Russell all on the Georgia-South Carolina border.

"The way it's envisioned, the states would put up 50 percent and the Corps would put up 50 percent," said David Word, EPD's assistant director. "We would provide $500,000 from Georgia and $500,000 from South Carolina."

The Corps would contribute the remaining $1 million for the first year of the study to be conducted in 2001. The states will be asked to commit similar amounts for the second year of the study in 2002.

The primary thrust will involve re-evaluating water storage priorities for the three reservoirs in light of changing demands for hydropower, drinking water supplies and downstream water use.

Augusta, for example, depends heavily on flows from Thurmond Dam to maintain water levels in the Savannah River, which provides drinking water for Augusta and North Augusta, and process water for dozens of industries.

"The way we see it, water issues along the Savannah River basin are really critical because we have the three federal reservoirs," Mr. Word said. "They impact Augusta very heavily and also have impacts as far south as the city of Savannah and the harbor area and its estuaries."

This year is expected to be the fourth consecutive year of drought, meaning water issues will become even more important in the near future. Thurmond Lake, for example, remains almost 10 feet below normal.

The study, called the Savannah River Comprehensive Study, includes creating models to determine if policy changes would better balance competing uses for the lakes' water, including hydropower, flood control, recreation, drought control, fish and wildlife management and water supply.

"When we have plenty of water, everybody is happy," said Bud Badr, a South Carolina state Natural Resources Department hydrologist. "But when we have periods of drought, it is important to have a plan for how we allocate the water. You have to give somebody what he needs and cut somebody else."

Leroy Crosby, the Corps' senior project manager for flood control, said the study could - theoretically - lead to some changes in use.

"If there's not as much need for flood control, for instance, maybe we can use space for water storage," he said.

Mr. Word said the study could help avoid what already has become a full-scale battle over water rights in west Georgia.

Georgia, Florida and Alabama have been battling in court over water rights in the Chattahoochee river basin.

Associated Press reports were used in this article.

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119, or rpavey@augustachronicle.com.