I AM RESPONDING to Duane Hovercamp's letter of Aug. 8 concerning the Corps of Engineers' management of Lake Thurmond. He raises a number of questions that are of interest to your readers, and I hope I can clear up some of the confusion surrounding operation of the Corps' three multipurpose projects on the Savannah River.
For the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, the Savannah District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been allocated $34 million to operate and maintain the three reservoirs on the Savannah River and the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam. This figure includes salaries for project staffs and funds to maintain all 91 federal public facilities (campgrounds and day-use areas), along with the operation and scheduled maintenance of the dams and power plants at each lake.
Additionally, $6 million is allocated in fiscal year 2003 for the continued major rehabilitation of the power plants at Thurmond and Hartwell Lakes. Over 18 million visitors enjoy our three lakes in an average year, pumping an estimated $285 million into economies of nearby communities.
Additionally, the stable and dependable water supply, even during times of drought, has attracted a variety of industries to the upper Savannah River Basin, promoting growth and economic development.
REVENUE FROM hydropower does not cover any of the Corps' operation and maintenance expenses. Revenues generated by each project are used to "pay back" the cost of constructing the projects and are returned to the U.S. Treasury. In an average non-drought year, hydropower revenues of approximately $41 million are returned to the Treasury.
The Corps of Engineers does not sell power to anyone. The Southeastern Power Administration manages the sale of federal power in this region. SEPA is an agency of the Department of Energy. SEPA sells power to preferred customers, primarily rural electric cooperatives, as mandated by federal law.
Since May, 1999, SEPA has been purchasing replacement power from non-hydropower sources to help conserve water levels in the Savannah River system. To date, they have spent in excess of $40 million, a cost borne by SEPA's customers. Savannah District projects entered Level 2 of the Savannah River Basin Drought contingency plan in August 2000, triggering a reduction in flows from all three projects.
The Drought Contingency Plan, developed and approved by the Corps of Engineers and the states of Georgia and South Carolina, is designed to slow lake level decline during droughts while maintaining, to the greatest extent possible, sufficient downstream water supply and water quality.
THIS IS, OF COURSE, especially important to Augusta and North Augusta, two of the larger downstream water users.
In short, the Savannah District has been, for over two years, releasing only what is necessary for downstream water supply and water quality. Generation of power is incidental to this requirement.
We are in constant contact with our state partners and SEPA, doing our best to manage this limited resource as we enter the fourth year of this very persistent drought.
Additional information, lake level projections and answers to frequently asked questions can be found at our Web site, www.sas.usace.army.mil
(Editor's note: The writer is the chief of public affairs for the Savannah District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.)