Thurmond Lake drought plan could change

Although Thurmond Lake continues to recover from the 2008 drought, the Army Corps of Engineers is taking steps to authorize continued water-conservation measures in case a recurring dry spell causes lake levels to plummet.

According to a draft Environmental Assessment out for public comment through Oct. 31, the corps wants to solidify its authority to reduce the amount of water it releases through Thurmond Dam into the Savannah River to volumes even lower than a federally approved Drought Management Plan allows.

"Basically, what it says is, we want to have the flexibility to lower releases again if conditions warrant," corps spokesman Billy Birdwell said.

"We can't wait until we need the environmental assessment to start the environmental assessment."

The drought plan provides a sliding scale under which flows into the river are gradually lowered as lake levels fall.

The current plan sets the lowered releases at 3,600 cubic feet per second, but a special deviation adopted in 2008 allowed the corps to further reduce flows to 3,100 cubic feet per second in hopes of conserving water in reservoirs.

The proposed revision in the plan would reduce the flows to 3,100 again in the future -- mainly in the fall and winter -- if conditions warrant, Mr. Birdwell said.

The corps is releasing 3,600 cubic feet per second and flows are expected to return to 4,000 cubic feet per second within 10 weeks as lake levels continue to recover. The pool level Friday was 324.82. Full pool is 330.

A more detailed description of the proposed action is contained in the draft Environmental Assessment and Appendices. The comment period, described in the Joint Public Notice, is open until Oct. 31.

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