Challenges come with balance of Savannah River

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The Savannah River begins where the Seneca and the Tugaloo rivers meet in the foothills of the Appalachian  mountains.

But that actual point of origin's been submerged for half a century beneath Lake Hartwell under waters held back by a dam of the same name - seven miles south of that formerly visible river fork that formed the Savannah River.

Three massive dams have reshaped the northern half of the Savannah River. The lakes they form are Strom Thurmond.

It's the largest lake east of the Mississippi River.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built and operating the dams.

"We coordinate all of our actions that we take with the state and federal regulatory agencies to make sure that they understand what the upstream and the downstream impacts would be. I think a lot of time there are some groups that are focused on such a narrow interest that they really don't see the big picture - or the need to balance all the requirements," said Col. Jeffrey Hall, the Corps' District Commander.

Those requirements include hydroelectric power, all kinds of recreation on the lakes and along the river stream, navigation and water quality and quantity.

"We've also got downstream requirements for ecological purposes - for the endangered species - for the Savannah Wildlife Refuge," he said.

Hall said that people up at the lakes would like the levels to be as high as they can, but added that the needs have be balanced.

"You've got industries up in Augusta, as well as down here in Savannah that also uses the water from the Savannah River to run their operations and their businesses," he said.

Add in drought and the whole situation gets even more difficult.

"We have 43 industrial outfalls in the last 200 miles of the Savannah River that result in about 6.8 million tons of effluent being put into the river each year," said Tonya Bonitatibus, the Savannah Riverkeeper. "This is not my term; this is the states' – 'the solution to pollution is dilution'. Right? So, the more dilution capacity that you have for the river, the more that you can put into it."

She said the Vogtle, the nuclear power plant, uses 65 mgd out of the Savannah River and evaporate 46 million of that.

To put that into perspective, the city of Augusta only uses 41million gallons a day, according to Bonitatibus. Vogtle has been approved for two more reactors.

She said they're starting to see more and more is South Carolina and Georgia starting to buck up at each other.

She said industries and municipalities are being told, they have to decrease by up to 90% what they're putting into the river.

Bonitatibus put for the challenges: industries want to make sure they have plenty of water to dilute their waste; Savannah wants to deepen its harbor; they want to push salt water up that's going decrease the oxygen and 1.4 million people are drinking that water every day.

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