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 pool. They 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