Shutdown after rain conserves reservoirs

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Flows through Thurmond Dam were halted Saturday afternoon as part of an effort to conserve water in upstate reservoirs.

"Right now it's completely turned off," said Billy Birdwell, the spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers.

The decision was made after heavy rainfall pushed the Savannah River and its tributaries below the dam to near flood stage Saturday, offering the corps a rare opportunity to avoid releasing water downstream to satisfy Augusta industries and municipal intakes.

"We're trying to use this adaptive management process everyone is talking about," Mr. Birdwell said, adding that the dam will be shut down for about a day and a re-evaluation today could yield a longer shutdown if downstream flows remain adequate.

Also on Saturday, a flood warning was issued for Stevens Creek at Modoc, S.C., affecting Edgefield and McCormick counties until this afternoon. A line of thunderstorms that moved through the Augusta area Saturday brought as much as two inches of rain to some areas, causing the river to rise quickly. It was expected to crest to 19.4 feet Saturday afternoon, which would be nearly a half foot over flood stage, affecting mostly farmland along Stevens Creek north of the U.S. Highway 23 bridge near Modoc.

Thurmond Lake, which has a normal full pool of 330 feet above sea level, was at 316.46 on Saturday -- or more than 13 feet low.

In recent weeks, residents, real estate developers, marina operators and others have campaigned for more reactive management programs that could help refill the reservoir -- or at least slow its decline during drought.

One of those remedies includes closer monitoring of local rainfall and subsequent dam flow adjustments.

In an average year, the corps releases about 9,000 cubic feet per second of flow into the Savannah River. In recent months, as part of a drought management program, releases were cut to 3,600 cubic feet per second and were briefly reduced as low as 3,100 cubic feet per second.

Any further flow reductions could jeopardize downstream water users. Mr. Birdwell said, however, that when there is plenty of local rain keeping the lower river full, it offers the corps an opportunity to capitalize on that rainfall by releasing less from the lakes and keeping more water in the reservoirs.

Saturday's shutdown of the dam wasn't unprecedented, but it was a rare occurrence, he said. He did not know the last time such an action was taken.

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

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Riverman1
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Riverman1 03/01/09 - 08:57 pm
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This was an informative

This was an informative article by Rob Pavey and hopefully the thread enlightened some too. I have been emailing Col. Kertis and the Corps for awhile. Here is something that those who want the lake filled should examine. The Corps agree to measure flows at Stevens Creek Dam about 5 years ago. I assume this is too difficult a calculation to partially decrease flows when there is only a little rain between the dams. What would it take to be able to calculate and only decrease the release when it rains before the Stevens Creek Dam? Col. Kertis hinted that would be extremely difficult, I assume because you are working on a full day's calculation and rain could be brief. In other words if it rained like hell for an hour right in front of the Stevens Creek dam how could you calculate how much to decrease the flow that day? Also, possibly it is difficult because of hydroelectric production? If it is the latter could new technology help preserve water?

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 03/02/09 - 09:05 am
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Over on the forum Iceman had

Over on the forum Iceman had a good idea. Measure the river flow from elevation levels on a road support at I-20. That way you would be measuring total flow in the river channel just above those precious shoals that the sturgeon could spawn in IF they weren't prevented from getting there by the Lock and Dam south of town.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 03/02/09 - 09:07 am
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Now, after you've set up the

Now, after you've set up the measurement method and location, you need to do something with the data. If the reservoir level is low and the river channel flow at I-20 is at least 3,300 cfs (or whatever the number is deemed to be appropriate by stakeholders), then you can throttle back or shut off the gates at the dam. Sounds simple, but it would take someone at the Corps to actually DO something, so it likely won't get anywhere.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 03/02/09 - 05:34 pm
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You could measure at I-20 if

You could measure at I-20 if you were sure the same rain had been all the way back up the 13 miles of river to Thurmond Dam. The problem is you can't. That's why you have to measure at Stevens Creek Dam. Understand?

Riverman1
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Riverman1 03/02/09 - 05:36 pm
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Checking into this, I'm

Checking into this, I'm pretty sure the last time the dam flow was completely cut off was about 5 years ago in response to flooding at Stevens Creek, as is happening now. I am surprised that Pam Tucker didn't know that according to the news on WGAC. She should be aware if there is flooding, that option is possible.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 03/02/09 - 05:47 pm
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Does everyone understand why

Does everyone understand why you can't top off the lake during periods of heavy rain? You would have no room to hold excess water and prevent flooding. Sheesh.

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