Originally created 03/16/04

Group plans to study river



Phinizy Swamp Nature Park's parent organization hopes to establish a research arm that will focus on urban impact to the Savannah River.

"The goal is to get the river as healthy as it can be," said Gene Eidson, the president of Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy, which created the 1,150-acre nature park near Augusta Regional Airport.

As growth continues in Georgia and South Carolina, the Savannah River will face more and more demands, and that could increase the potential for conflict over limited water supplies, he said.

The proposed Center for Urban River Research would study water pollution and other urban impact along 17 miles of the river - from the waterworks pumping station above the city to about a mile below New Savannah Bluff.

Computerized "hydro-labs," which perform tasks that once required dozens of biologists, would be placed at intervals along the river to measure pollution, dissolved oxygen and other variables.

"Over the course of a three-year study, we would be able to tell you what a typical day on the Savannah River is," Dr. Eidson said.

Such baseline data would be valuable in situations where there is competition for wasteload allocation or rights to withdraw water, he said. The study also would focus on future options for recycling wastewater to conserve the river's flow.

"We want to be in a position where we never have to close an industry, and never have to say no to an allocation for an industry," he said.

Dr. Eidson hopes to persuade Augusta officials to allocate $670,000 in special purpose local option sales tax money - which would finance about half the three-year project's total cost.

Augusta Mayor Bob Young, who toured the river Monday with Dr. Eidson, said a referendum on sales tax matters could be held as early as this fall, with funds being generated by 2006. Projects destined to receive funds could start earlier if bond money is used. Dr. Eidson said the remaining funds for the project would be sought through grants and private-sector commitments.

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.