Originally created 02/16/02

Meeting addresses drought



Ever wonder why water levels at Thurmond Lake sometimes fall - even after a good rain?

You might soon get a chance to find out. The Army Corps of Engineers, preparing for a third consecutive year of drought, will offer the public an opportunity to ask all the questions they can muster.

The drought information workshops in Augusta will be held Feb. 25 at Julian Smith Casino.

Other meetings will be held in Anderson, S.C., and in Hartwell, Ga.

Thurmond Lake covers 70,000 acres when it's full. But low water has left thousands of acres of shoreline dry. New studies indicate little relief is in sight for the coming spring and summer recreation season.

Currently, the lake's pool level is 318.7 feet above sea level, more than 11 feet below full pool of 330. Projections indicate the lake will rise only slightly - to 321.6 - by mid-April.

"The region has experienced extremely dry conditions over the past three years, with inflows into the Savannah River averaging about 50 percent of normal," corps spokesman Jim Parker said. Since May 1998, the river basin's rainfall deficit is more than 41.5 inches.

Thurmond Lake is part of a system of lakes - including Russell and Hartwell - that are managed by the corps for hydropower, recreation and other purposes. When water is in short supply, those interests clash.

Despite a reduction in the amount of hydropower generated by the three dams, water levels remain low. Mr. Parker pointed out that levels would be much lower if power suppliers had not bought electricity elsewhere.

The Southeastern Power Administration, which markets electricity from corps dams, has purchased more than $33.3 million in alternate electricity since May 1999, thus reducing the decline of water levels.

But recreation continues to suffer. Boat ramps are difficult or impossible to use, and previously submerged structures create hazards for boaters.

Even camping has declined.

"It really, really has affected us," said Bill Tinley, the superintendent at Mistletoe State Park. "Our (use) has dropped by about 25 percent because of the drought."

Studies indicate the impacts of the drought were being felt long before the Sept. 11 attacks and economic slowdown, Mr. Tinley said.

"Compared to the 1997 pre-drought figures, there has been a 60 percent drop in revenues created by recreation on this lake - $3.3 million to $1.2 million - and it's strictly the drought conditions causing it."

MEETING SCHEDULE

Drought information workshops: Feb. 25, Julian Smith Casino, 1-4 p.m. and 6:30-8:30 p.m.

  • Water management (lake levels, forecasts, drought plans)
  • Operations (impact to recreation, fish and wildlife)
  • Natural resources (state agencies discuss water supply)
  • Public information (respond to inquiries from public and media)
  • For more information: www.sas.usace.mil/lakes/

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