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South Carolina, Georgia worried about Savannah River Basin levels

Posted: February 19, 2013 - 4:07pm

COLUMBIA — Lawmakers in South Carolina and Georgia may be ready to cooperate over the Savannah River for a change.

A half-dozen members of the Georgia House and Senate met Feb. 12 to form a group to push for economic issues affecting people along the length of the Savannah River.

It was the first meeting of Georgia’s new Savannah River Caucus, a group that may sponsor legislation and lobby federal officials. The caucus hopes to work with a similar caucus South Carolina counterparts have taken steps to form. The organizers want to protect the tourism and farming interests tied to lakes on the upper end of the river that is the border between the two states.

Those attending Feb. 12 were from Augusta and upstream communities where the river is dammed to form a series of lakes. They are frustrated that the Army Corps of Engineers that manages the lakes doesn’t maintain enough water in them to prevent the waterline from dropping. Lake Hartwell and Lake Thurmond both dropped 16 feet below full pool, exposing chimneys in Thurmond from houses that were inundated when the lake was built.

One of the goals is to rewrite the river’s drought-management plan.

Ga. Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell.said that the caucus and the South Carolina version will have enough influence to get the Corps’ attention.

When South Carolina’s legislative session began in January, Rep. Don Bowen, R-Anderson, canvassed the 124-member House in an effort to find every lawmaker whose district touches the Savannah River. On Feb. 12, Bowen could not be reached, but Rep. Bill Hixon, a North Augusta Republican, said to his knowledge, a South Carolina caucus had not yet met.

But Hixon hopes that such a group will gather soon.

The lawmaker said he’s spoken about the water levels with the staff of area congressmen Joe Wilson and Jeff Duncan, along with the governor’s office, but to no avail.

“No one can seem to get any straight answers from the Corps of Engineers,” said Hixon.

“We need to know what our levels are,” he added. “Our drinking water depends on the river.”

He said the lower river levels have forced the Edgefield County Water to Sewer Authority to consider extending its intake pipe in order to still draw water.

As for whether the new caucus would result in lawmakers of both states clustered in the Upper Savannah River squaring off against their down-river counterparts, Hixon said it was unlikely.

“Everybody wants to protect their turf, but the main thing is we want everybody to have water and to give our constituents answers.”

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