Engineers unveil final plan for Thurmond Lake project

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Just as ducks fly south for the winter, striped bass head north in the summer.

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Staff
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Each year, when rising temperatures heat the open waters of Thurmond Lake, baitfish and stripers head upstream to Russell Dam's cool tailrace waters.

The reason: heat lowers dissolved oxygen levels in the lower lake, and fish move upstream seeking a better environment.

The Army Corps of Engineers pledged last week to fulfill a decade-long promise to create some warm weather striper habitat closer to home.

During a public meeting Thursday night, engineers unveiled final plans for a $6 million oxygenation system that will be built near Modoc, S.C., and begin operation sometime in 2010.

The idea, according to project manager Brian Williams, is to pump 20 to 100 tons per day of liquid oxygen into more than seven miles of submerged, perforated pipes through which pure oxygen will bubble toward the surface.

"The pipes will be 80 to 90 feet down in about 120 feet of water," Williams said.

Once the system is fully operational, it is expected to increase dissolved oxygen levels by up to 3 parts per million along a five-mile swath from Modoc downstream to the face of Thurmond Dam.

Currently, oxygen levels in that area can dwindle to as little as 1 part per million during warm weather.

The oxygen system should create a near-perfect environment to which baitfish, stripers and other fish will be attracted.

"Whether you build it and they will come, you can't say for certain, but I believe it will attract fish," said corps fisheries biologist Jamie Sikes.

"We think, when the big fish come out of Little River and take a left -- and find blueback herring -- that they will stay," he said. "Why do they go anywhere else?"

The $6 million price tag includes about $2 million in improvements in the Gilchrist Ferry Road area, including parking and restrooms at the corps park; and a widened, paved access road.

The oxygen will be trucked in to the storage plant daily, Williams said. The site is expected to operate only during the warmest months -- roughly from June to September.

The project is part of the legacy of a lingering lawsuit over fish kills caused by Russell Dam's reversible hydropower turbines, which can pump water from Thurmond Lake back into Lake Russell for re-use in power production.

The corps, as a condition of settling the lawsuit in 2002 and being able to operate the turbines, agreed to build the oxygen system downstream to mitigate the fish that would be killed by turbine operations.

FINAL DOVE SEASONS: After months of study and debate, Georgia's Board of Natural Resources gave final approval to the 2008-09 dove seasons last week.

The official dates will be: Sept. 6-21; Oct. 11-19; and Nov. 27-Jan. 10.

The board also approved an amendment to the hunting regulations to allow for hunting seasons at Chattahoochee Bend State Park, F.D. Roosevelt State Park, Oliver Bridge WMA and Silver Lake WMA.

S.C. DEER HARVEST: South Carolina hunters killed 239,193 whitetails in 2007 -- an increase of 7 percent over the previous season, according to new figures released by the state's Department of Natural Resources.

The estimated 124,522 bucks and 114,671 does represent the first harvest increase in five years, according to Charles Ruth, the state's deer and turkey project supervisor.

Although harvest figures were up slightly, the trend has been a gradual decline, Ruth said, and annual harvest rates are about 25 percent below the record of 319,902 set in 2002.

Ruth said he believes the harvest increase could be the result of a slight increase in hunters.

Other statistics from the state's annual deer harvest report indicate that 127,699 South Carolina residents and 17,537 non-residents hunted for deer in 2007.

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


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