Monday, August 12, 2013

Change in Blog Address

All future blogs concerning Lake Thurmond Levels will be at a new web site.  Go to

Sunday, July 21, 2013


I met with Gary Gerrard who is running for Congress in Georgia’s 10th district for about an hour on Thursday.  He is very interested in what he can do to help with our lake situation if elected.  He sees the recommendations being put forth by Save Our Lakes Now as sensible and wondered why the Corps is not doing anything with them.  We agreed that the basic problem for lake stakeholders is we have no meaningful representation at the Corps meetings where release rates, etc. are discussed.  We desperately need someone who has skin in the game from the stand point of recreation who will not be a yes man for the Corps.


We need to pass the word that our votes in upcoming congressional or senatorial races can make a big difference on how our lakes are managed.  The current representatives and Senators for some reason are staying at arm’s length from the battle.  The changes needed to correct our problems with lake levels are not complicated.  We already know how to eliminate the destruction to recreational infrastructure using what has been learned in recent droughts.  But our leaders sit quietly by while the Corps waits for further study to be done.  Even when the studies are complete we will not be any better off unless we can get representation in interpreting the study results.  We all know from problems with our government that the way something is interpreted depends on the mindset (eg. Democrat vs Republican) of the person doing the interpretation.  The same holds true with interpreting the results of lake studies.


I urge you to make sure the person you vote for in the upcoming elections is concerned about our lakes and willing to get into the fray over how our lakes are managed.  At the very least they need to insist that recreation ,the one Corps responsibility that is being ignored, be put into the equation of balancing the basin.  

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


The recent issue of Balancing the Basin offers a fantastic solution to our lake level problems that should be totally acceptable to all Savannah River Basin (SRB) interests.  It is really quite simple yet it answers the environmentalists desire to stay away from the ravages of a river in severe drought and fish and wildlife’s desire for more variation in river flows while taking care of the lake stakeholders desire to avoid the devastating low lake levels experienced in recent droughts.  The solution is to operate the lakes all the time the same way they do in flood stage. 

 As stated in the recent Balancing the Basin, the corps is currently varying flows as needed to maintain lake levels within an acceptable range.  This is standard operating procedure in flood stage.  If they simply use this same mode all the time with the added restriction of never dropping below 3600cfs (3100 in cold weather) all SRB interests should be taken care of.  The beauty of this approach is that it is within standard operating practice for the Corps and satisfies the various demands of all the different stakeholders.  If we combine this with dropping the lakes 2' in October rather than 4' (see previous blog), recreation would finally be protected the way it should be and the horrible loss in revenues and property values in droughts can become a thing of the past. 
To accomplish this we are going to have to get the operating plan for our lakes fixed now while the lakes are full rather than wait till the next drought happens.  That's going to be hard because everyone is excited now that the lakes are full.  Somehow we are going to have to get our political leaders like Jeff Duncan involved more aggressively.   And if you know a way to contact any of the candidates for Paul Broun’s office we need to make them aware as well.

Saturday, June 29, 2013


Everything looks great right now with all the rain and the lakes full.  But the way the Corps controls lake levels through the fall and winter months can wipe out all our gains in one season.  Right now the Corps management plan calls for a 4’ drop in lake levels in October, just like they have done for years.  The reason for this draw down is to provide room for heavy rains in the winter and spring.  When this was put into effect we only had one lake (Lake Thurmond) to catch the run off.  Now there are 3 lakes and a 2’ drop in level now equates to a 4’ drop  before Hartwell and Russell were added.  We have pleaded with the Corps for years to back off to only a 2’ drop in the Fall but up to now they have not agreed to such a change.


We need help from our congressman and all lake stakeholders to get the Corps to make this change.  Please contact your congressman and the Corps now about making this change in the way the lakes are operated before we get to October.  Unless we act now the lakes will be down 4’ come next January which puts us behind the eight ball when it comes to returning to full pool in 2014. Protecting recreation for next year begins this October.  What we do over the Fall and Winter months can make the difference between reasonable drops in lake level during a drought and the disastrous drops in lake levels we’ve experienced in recent years.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


The current situation we find ourselves in at Lake Thurmond and Lake Hartwell provides an excellent example of how to balance the Savannah River Basin. 


What if we used the same method of control in flood stage that the Corps is using in drought stage.  If we did, release rates would be based totally on some feel good number for river flows. 

·         For example lets imagine that the NOAA asks that the river flows be held at 4,200cfs maximum until the lakes reach 5’ above full poolThey could do so out of concern for critters in the river that will die because of high river flows and/or flooding downstream. 

·         If that were the basis the lakes could easily climb to levels that are hazardous from the standpoint of flooding and we would be in a massive problem both upstream and downstream.

This scenario is ridiculous and the Corps would quickly take the bull by the horns and explain to NOAA that meeting their request is simply not feasible.  That is what managers do.


Whether you are in a drought or in flood stage, the only reasonable method of control is to use lake levels as the basis for control rather than release rates. Holding lake levels to a maximum of 5’ above full pool in flood stage is no different than holding lake levels within 5’ of full pool in a drought.   The difference in what the Corps does in a drought is they control by release rates rather than holding lake level within a reasonable range.  Just as there is a maximum reasonable release rate based on downstream flooding there is a minimum reasonable release rate based on experiences downstream in past droughts.  Right now that lower limit is 3600cfs based on the experience gained in the drought of 2008.  In flood stage, everyone will agree that at 2’ above full pool lake levels should take precedence over release rates.  In drought stage the Corps needs to recognize 2’ below full pool is the point where lake levels take precedence over release rates. 


Lest anyone think lake levels are not a proper concern for the Corps, Congress added recreation and protecting fish and wildlife to the list of responsibilities in managing our lakes in 1988.  Recreation consists of the infrastructure required for recreation on the lakes not whether someone can fish a given spot on the lake or river.  That infrastructure includes the marinas, campgrounds, support businesses such as dock building, and all the real estate developed to provide access to the lakes. 


Looking at the full list of responsibilities the Corps has in managing our lakes, holding to reasonable minimums or maximums in release rates provides the protection needed for flood control, water supply/quality and fish and wildlife. Recreation is protected by keeping lake levels within 8 ft of full pool.  Power production is simply a goal the Corps has with SEPA.  Falling short of the power production goal from too low a release rate is simply an economic consideration.   Any deficiency in power production at the dams can be corrected by purchase of power off site.  The money involved in purchasing make up power is dwarfed by the destruction to the value of recreational infrastructure from excessive loss of lake level so recreation trumps power anytime the two are in competition.


Jerry Clontz, spokesman for Save Our Lakes Now


Thursday, June 6, 2013


We wrote in our blog on May 25th, "TIME TO CORRECT DROUGHT PLAN IS NOW,  NOT AFTER THE LAKES HAVE DROPPED".  Apparently this fell on deaf ears because the current issue of Balancing the Basin indicates no intention of changing from past practices.  They project the lakes will drop 3.5 ft by mid August with no requirement to modify release rates until the lakes drop more than 4'.

As we've discussed many times a 4' drop in lake level before decreasing release rates causes destruction of recreation.  From that point the lake will drop more than 10' in a severe drought even if minimum release rates are initiated.  Following is a repeat of our recommendations for protecting recreation along with all the other concerns the Corps is supposed to be protecting for the Savannah River Basin.
  1.  Maintain lake levels at full pool as long as this can be done without dropping release rates below 3600cfs.  In other words balance input and output in such a fashion that the lakes stay full rather than allowing the lakes to drop several feet before becoming concerned about lake levels.
  2.  Once the lakes drop more than 2’ with a release rate of 3600cfs, maintain 3600cfs (3100 in winter months) until the lakes return to full pool.
  3.  Anytime the lakes are down more than 2’ and the river is swollen from heavy rains, shut off flows from the dams until the river flows return to normal.  This will help minimize the amount of time reduced release rates are needed.
As noted before, all this would be a natural happening if the Corps followed the same logic Duke Power uses on Lake Keowee.  There the drought plan is based on never dropping the lakes more than 10' even in a severe drought.  They accomplish this by using the data gathered from the droughts of record to design their release rates.  Why we can't get the Corps to uphold their responsibility to protect recreation along with all their other concerns remains a mystery.

Sunday, June 2, 2013


Repeatedly we have asked the Corps to decrease release rates because of the huge impact low lake levels have on the recreation infrastructure around the lakes.  By recreation infrastructure we mean real estate built for lake access and lake view, campgrounds, marinas, and all the many investments related to recreation around the lakes.  Each time the Corps has assured us they are not permitted to consider economics when determining release rates.


Now, in the most recent issue of balancing the basin, Billy Birdwell explains that the Corps is now able to hold a 3800cfs release rate because they have met their power quotas with SEPA.  The only reason power quotas are important is that power purchased to replace hydro power shortages costs more than hydropower produced by our lakes.  I may be confused but it seems to me that cost of power is nothing more than an economic consideration.  Surely I must be mistaken because the cost of monetary losses to recreational infrastructure from low lake levels dwarfs the added cost of power.  Matter of fact the total value of power produced on all three of our lakes is peanuts compared to the economic losses from low lake levels exceeding a drop of 10’.


What I see happening violates good engineering principles.  Good engineering means to use the information at hand to the full extent possible to perform a task such as managing our basins rather than wait for a perfect solution based on endless studies. The data from all the droughts of the past decade is more than sufficient to avoid drops in lake level in excess of 8-10’ while avoiding problems to downstream interests.  Instead the Corps makes endless excuses to avoid the changes needed.  While you can always learn more from further studies, there is no need to wait for these studies before making changes that will prevent the devastation we keep experiencing every time a drought occurs.  Save Our Lakes Now has outlined a sound approach to drought control in our previous blogs but to date there is no evidence that the Corps plans to incorporate these changes.


I ask again is Save Our Lakes Now the only organization concerned about this and other inconsistencies in the way the Corps is controlling our lakes.  Where are our congressmen and the other lake organizations when it comes to getting the Corps to optimize the drought plan for the Savannah River Basin.