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Ensuring Clean Water for All

By Tracy Robillard, Corporate Communications Office

Congress added water supply as an authorized purpose of lakes Hartwell, Richard B. Russell and J. Strom Thurmond under the Water Supply Act of 1958. This legislation gave communities throughout the Savannah River Basin the option to receive water supply allocations from the reservoirs.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District has 13 water storage contracts at the three reservoirs. Essentially, these contracts give the purchaser the right to a certain portion of water storage space within the reservoir, according to Melissa Wolf, Corps natural resources specialist.

"We don't sell the water, only the space for storing the water within the reservoir," Wolf said.

To determine the required storage space, Corps water managers calculate a "dependable yield" value, which essentially means that X amount of space within the reservoir will yield Y amount of water, even during the worst-case drought of record, Wolf said.

Cities that get their drinking water from the reservoirs include McCormick, S.C.; and Lavonia, Elberton; Washington, Lincolnton, and Thomson, Ga. Other users are Hart County and Columbia County, Ga., the South Carolina Public Service Authority, the Anderson Regional Joint Water System, and the Savannah Valley Authority.

Many other communities get drinking water from the Savannah River downstream of the Thurmond Dam, including two major metropolitan Georgia cities (Augusta and Savannah) as well as Beaufort and Hilton Head, S.C.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) manage permitting for all water withdrawals in the basin, including industrial, municipal, and agricultural uses.

Georgia EPD has permitted 17 public drinking water systems that use surface water sources from the Savannah River Basin, according to Ted Jackson, program manager for EPD's drinking water program. These permits supply drinking water to an estimated 415,000 Georgia citizens, Jackson said.

On the other side of the river, South Carolina DHEC has issued nine permits for surface water withdrawals serving a total population of 790,860, according to Carol Roberts, DHEC watershed manager for the Savannah and Salkehatchie rivers.

photo of Plant Vogtle, a nuclear power plant

One of many industrial users of the Savannah River Basin is Plant Vogtle, a nuclear power facility in Burke County, Ga. Pictured here is construction on units 3 and 4 in the foreground with units 1 and 2 in the background. Photo by Georgia Power, August 2012.

In total, the Savannah River Basin supplies drinking water to more than 1.2 million people in Georgia and South Carolina.

"Protecting all our water resources—the streams, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and our underground aquifers— just makes common sense," Jackson said. "It makes sense that we all want clean water to drink to support our health… to continue to support our economy… and to be good stewards of the environment that supports all life."

Water Quality and the Clean Water Act

Water quality means ensuring water in the basin meets state environmental standards for dissolved oxygen, salinity, pH levels, and other factors.

"The water quality standards are the foundation of water quality protection programs in the state," Roberts said. "The standards help protect freshwater uses such as public water supply, recreation, fishing, aquatic life, industrial, and navigational purposes."

Industry use of the river plays a major role in water quality. Municipalities and industries throughout the basin discharge treated waste water into the river in compliance with state permitting requirements. This requires a continuous flow of water from the reservoirs to assimilate or dilute the wastewater. This process becomes even more critical during drought and the summer months when water temperatures rise and dissolved oxygen levels drop.

Georgia and South Carolina base their permitting rules on the established minimum outflows in the Corps of Engineers' drought plan. This helps ensure clean water for all basin users in both states.

map of South Carolina and Georgia

The Savannah River Basin supplies drinking water to more than 1.2 million people in two states, including two major metropolitan cities—Augusta and Savannah, Ga. USACE graphic by George Jumara.

The Clean Water Act is the basic federal law designed to control water pollution in U.S. waters. It prohibits the discharge of any pollutant into U.S. waters unless permitted under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).

Georgia EPD currently has 171 active NPEDS permits for the discharge of wastewater into the basin, Jackson said. South Carolina DHEC has 48, Roberts said.

According to a 2001 report from Georgia EPD, some of the major industrial and federal wastewater treatment users in the basin include Georgia Power's nuclear power facility Plant Vogtle in Burke County, Ga.; International Paper Company in Richmond County, Ga.; Kemira Pigments, Inc. (an inorganic chemicals company) in Chatham County, Ga.; Georgia Power formerly known as Savannah Electric and Power Company (a steam electric facility) in Effingham County, Ga.; Union Camp Corporation (pulp and paper mill) in Chatham County, Ga.; and Stone Container Corporation (pulp and paper mill) in Chatham County, Ga. Other users include the Department of Energy Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C.

"Decades of human development along the river, including industrial developments, have changed the natural landscape of the river," Wolf said. "Therefore, it's critical for the Corps to coordinate with the state and federal natural resource agencies to maintain the longterm health of the river and its delicate ecosystems."