Originally created 03/15/03

Revamp drought plan



The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' decision to shelve its proposal to modify the drought contingency plan that's been in effect since the late '80s will sit well with the proposal's critics, one of which was the South Carolina Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management that shot it down.

The Corps modification - which drew some fire in a series of public hearings - would reduce flows in the Savannah River to preserve upstream lake levels during extensive droughts.

The current plan calls for reducing flows from Thurmond Dam into the river to 3,600 cubic feet per second during severe drought. The modification would allow the flows to be cut even further - to 3,000 cubic feet per second - and help slow the decline of lake levels.

The Palmetto State's resource management office found the Corps' proposed revision to the plan was inconsistent with the state's Coastal Zone Management program administered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"They don't believe this change to the drought plan is consistent with their goals," said Corps spokesman Jim Parker. Although the Corps could appeal, Parker said it would not.

We suspect recent alleviation of the drought conditions had something to do with that. Parker did say if the drought dramatically worsened again, he might try again to make the modification proposal a part of "our drought contingency tool box."

But for now Parker says the Corps' time and resources would be better spent moving forward on a full review of the existing contingency drought plan with an eye toward redrafting the entire program, the largest overhaul in 15 years. Sophisticated hydrologic computer modeling of the Savannah River Basin will be used and explained at public forums and hearings as well as on the Internet.

We welcome this new direction the Corps is taking. The existing drought contingency plan is getting too old and frayed to be held together much longer by revisions and modifications.

With the drought crisis on hold, at least for now, this is the ideal time to start developing a new contingency plan for the 21st century using high-tech models and involving the public at every level. We bet what comes out of that will be more acceptable to all affected parties - communities with clean water concerns, the hydro-power industry, lake recreation, tourist and sporting industries - than the current plan.