Communities that depend on the Savannah River to maintain growth and prosperity also must share the pain when supplies run low, according to the principal planner for a $4 million regional water study.
"We have to manage the river as a single system," said Bill Lynch, senior project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Savannah River Basin Comprehensive Study, which began two years ago.
The study, funded jointly by the federal government and Georgia and South Carolina, is among several efforts under way to find the best ways to share and manage the important waterway well into the future.
The 312-mile river, which flows through Augusta, already is used by more than 500 cities, counties and industries for surface water withdrawal, Mr. Lynch told attendees at a water users meeting Wednesday.
The river also provides electricity from 13 hydropower projects - including lakes Thurmond, Russell and Hartwell above Augusta - and recreation for millions of visitors annually.
The multifaceted study includes analysis of 50 years of inflow data to help predict drought and flood patterns; a survey of water use by agricultural entities in both states; and a series of surveys by The Nature Conservancy to devise a flow strategy that benefits wildlife in the lower river between Augusta and the coastal estuaries near Savannah.
Another component of the study, undertaken by the Corps' Hydrologic Energy Center in Davis, Calif., involves a sophisticated computer model of the river and its various uses, Mr. Lynch said.
The same model is in use for analyzing the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Iraq, where the Corps is involved in restoring damaged infrastructure, he said.
The first phase of the study will be completed in December, with a second phase likely to be proposed unless the initial study concludes there will always be plenty of water for anyone who wants it, he said.
"But I think we all know, with the growth in this region, we won't be able to meet all the demands doing what we're doing now," he said.
Wednesday's meeting, held by the city of North Augusta, was the third in a series of river stakeholder discussion groups first organized by Augusta Mayor Bob Young.
"There's a lot of attention being paid to water these days, and we're at ground zero - right here in the river," the mayor said, adding he hopes that proper planning will stave off disputes.
Georgia already faces litigation with Alabama and Florida over water from the Chattahoochee and other rivers tapped by thirsty metro Atlanta, whose 5 million residents make up half the state's population.
The lawsuit filed by Alabama in 1990 and joined by Florida arose from concerns that rivers flowing from Georgia into those states were depleted by water usage from metro Atlanta.
The litigation yielded two compacts in 1997, but a 1998 deadline for agreeing on a formula dictating how much water must flow to Florida and Alabama remains unresolved.
Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119, or email@example.com.
Savannah River Basin
Length: 312 river miles draining 10,000 square miles
Adjoins: 44 Georgia and South Carolina counties
Also touches: Five congressional districts in two states
Major industrial and municipal water users: More than 500
Capacity of lakes Thurmond, Russell and Hartwell: 6.3 million acre feet
Annual economic impact of Savannah River's harbor: $1.3 billionTotal number of hydroelectric plants: 13