SOME SAY INCREASING WATER WOES NOW IN GOD’S HANDS
By Vince Jackson reporting from Anderson
Anyone who drives over Hartwell Lake knows that the water level is going down, not coming back up. If meaningful rainfall does not occur soon, the lake level could fall below the only functioning intake for the Anderson water district early next fall, experts say.
According to the US Army Corps of Engineers the current lake level is 639.58 above mean sea level. This is lower than the previous record low of 642.4 feet set in the drought of 1981. By comparison historic winter lake levels average about 657 feet, according to Corps records.
If sufficient rainfall does not occur soon Corps projections indicate that Hartwell Lake could drop to 634 feet by January 1, 2009.
Steve Wilson, manager of the West Anderson Water System says that water cannot be taken from Hartwell through the only remaining submerged intake pipe if water levels recede to 620 feet. At the current rate of water usage that low level would occur late next summer or early fall, Wilson said.
“I would estimate that we have maybe 300 days of available water left in the lake. No one knows for sure. Conservation methods have been successful and have increased the life of the existing water supply, but more needs to be done to insure the continued supply of clean, useable water from the lake,” says Wilson.
City officials in the towns of Central, Clemson and Pendleton say that their citizens are conserving and meeting the 20% reduction levels required by drought management regulations. The question becomes is this sufficient conservation?
Currently, the Corps releases 3600 cubic feet of water per second to supply electrical generation needs and keep federally mandated flows moving downstream, according to the Corps website. Reductions in this amount have been discussed and suggested by SCDHEC and the Georgia Environmental Protection Department along with various water resource and conservation groups in the area.
Virgil Hobbs, Hartwell Project Operations Manager says that the Corps is working on an environmental assessment that could cut releases to 3100 cfs by November 22, 2008. This could mean that approximately 323 million more gallons per day would be retained in the lake through the release reduction, Hobbs said.
“Both Georgia and South Carolina state environmental protection departments have recommended reduction in flow releases to the 3100 cfs rate for the winter of 2009. They are both fully aware of the water crisis situation at Hartwell Lake,” said Hobbs.
“When people notice the generators running at the dam they think that we are only releasing water to provide saleable electricity. Actually, we are currently purchasing power from other generating sources for use in the area we serve. Over the past several years that amounts to about $60 million in off-system power purchases. We continue to generate some power during water releases, but that is because it is the most efficient manner to discharge the water,” said Hobbs.
Lakes Hartwell and Thurmond currently are providing most of what is known as conservation storage for the Upper Savannah River Basin. This is water that is specifically earmarked for use in maintaining downstream flow rates. Hartwell at present has approximately nineteen feet of conservation storage and Thurmond less than three feet. As greater demands are made on Hartwell this storage margin will decrease rapidly, according to Corps projections.
If drought conditions and current Corps water releases continue at present rates areas supplied by the Anderson Regional Joint Water System could possibly run short of water next year, said Wilson. The areas are:
Belton-Honea Path Water Authority
Big Creek Water and Sewage District
Broadway Water and Sewage District
City of Anderson
City of Clemson
Hammond Water District
Homeland Park Water District
Powdersville Water District
Sandy Springs Water District
Starr-Iva Water and Sewer District
Town of Central
Town of Pendleton
Town of Williamston
W. Anderson Water District
Other problems could occur if water shortages persist, says Mac Martin, mayor of the Town of Central.
“I fear we will have budget problems in Central and in other small towns if water usage is compromised. Currently we bring in about $5,000 per month based on projected water and sewer fees in Central. If water is further restricted or unavailable we will see decreases in revenues to the town that cannot easily be made-up during these austere times. Our budget is cut to the bone already,” Martin said.
“Other cities have similar water and sewer fees that account for an incremental amount of total revenues for that city. Most towns are also responsible for capital service charges that they pay to the water district. These costs do not go away just because a town uses less water. Losing revenue shares from water and sewer fees would cause hardships beyond the potential loss of the water itself,” he said.
Wilson says that the only intake from Hartwell Lake that is currently useable is the 36” pipe near Old Pearman Dairy Rd in Anderson. If water levels recede below that intake then auxiliary pumps and pipes would have to be run to deep water areas of the lake to supply the area’s needs. Wilson says this would be an emergency measure that could not sustain the district’s water needs indefinitely.
“We usually draw about 2 inches of water off the lake per month and evaporation can take more than that. During the summer water usage goes up 50% on average. Rain is the only thing that will solve this problem,” he said.
If it does not rain and the lake continues to drop Hobbs says that there is still what is known as the inactive storage. This is that deep water portion of the lake’s resources that could be tapped for water needs in a worst case scenario.
“If we reach that point next year then the states of Georgia and South Carolina would have to agree to access the inactive storage, since this is a shared water resource. Water would become more expensive and we could lose the lake, but water needs could continue to be met for some time with pumps and pipes,” Hobbs said. If we reach this point all releases will have stopped and flow in the Upper Savannah River Basin would be adversely affected. Power generation at the dam would most likely not be possible and economic impacts would occur,” Hobbs said.
“This is uncharted waters, so to speak. We can only hope that God will be looking out for us and provide some much needed rain,” said Hobbs.