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Corps raising trigger for dam releases

Posted: July 12, 2017 - 12:51am
The Army Corps of Engineers is proposing the change for Thurmond Dam as part of its Drought Contingency Plan review. The Corps will be holding a workshop on the proposal today to hear from the public at the North Augusta Municipal Building.
The Army Corps of Engineers is proposing the change for Thurmond Dam as part of its Drought Contingency Plan review. The Corps will be holding a workshop on the proposal today to hear from the public at the North Augusta Municipal Building.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is proposing a "significant" 6-foot increase in the Thurmond Lake level it uses to trigger releases from Thurmond Dam as part of a revised drought contingency plan.

The proposal, to be discussed at a workshop today in North Augusta, is among several the Corps studied that has the fewest negative impacts on purposes such as flood control and hydropower production, and will like have a likely positive effect on recreation from a fuller lake, according to Billy Birdwell, senior public affairs specialist.

The proposed change is part of a periodic review of the Corps' Drought Contingency Plan, and its definition of drought is tied exclusively to lake levels, Birdwell said. Of several alternatives studied, including making no changes, the proposed Alternative 2 reduces the amount of water released but triggers the releases based on lower lake levels.

The existing trigger level 3 is increased from 316 feet above mean sea level to 324 feet, an increase Birdwell called significant. At that level, 3,200 cubic feet of water is released through the dam. The lake level was at 324 feet Thursday, and it has fluctuated between 319 and 324 feet since the beginning of the year.

By reducing the drought trigger level, the lake enters the level sooner and the Corps "can further reduce the amount of water we release from the Thurmond Dam that will likely slow the decline even more."

The Corps expects feedback from recreational, municipal, state, federal and industrial users on either sides of Thurmond Dam at the work session and will also receive written comments through noon July 13, Birdwell said.

Below the dam, users also expect sufficient water levels and will likely voice their concerns, he said. Congress recently directed the Corps to maintain the pool of water backed up on the Savannah behind the New Savannah Lock and Dam, he said.

Entities dependent on those levels include Augusta Utilities, which draws raw river water into the Augusta Canal for treatment.

Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier said the department occasionally has to curtail flow through the canal to maintain higher levels in the river.

 

Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or susan.mccord@augustachronicle.com.

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