Thurmond Dam: Checking in on river and lake levels

Published: Apr. 14, 2022 at 7:05 PM EDT
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CLARKS HILL LAKE, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Water levels in Augusta are trying to get back to normal after two days of heavy rain last week.

Our Sky 12 was up over the Thurmond Dam, where the water is still high.

It’s nothing compared to what the U.S. Army Corps says it saw last week. The dam was inches from overflowing. We saw torrential downpours along the Savannah River that caused major flooding last week. It raised questions about what happened at the Thurmond Dam.

We spoke with an expert who says the dam did everything it was supposed to. Experts with the U.S. Army Corps Engineers say they haven’t seen something like this in decades.

“It’s a unique event as far as I’m concerned. I haven’t seen one like this in my years up here,” said Scott Hyatt, operations project manager, Strom Thurmond Dam.

It’s one of the highest flows they’ve seen since the dam was built 60 years ago. It used about 88-percent of flood storage.

“We were about eight or nine inches away from the top of the flood pool, and when we reach the top of the flood pool, we reach the top of the gates. Water will start coming over the gates whether we open them or not,” he said.

The dams are meant to help reduce flooding, not stop it.

“At that point, we’re letting out water and contributing to flooding, but we still are not at what we would’ve been if the dam wasn’t there,” said Hyatt.

Their rain gauges saw seven inches of rain in 48 hours, with heavy rain focused in Augusta.

“As the river continued to rise we cut completely back to zero. We were releasing zero from Thurmond Dam at the peak,” he said.

With flow cut down to zero at the dam, 20 miles down the river, the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam recorded 46,000 cubic feet of water per second. That’s more than 344,000 gallons of water.

“That’s an incredible amount. The river channel capacity is about 30,000 cubic feet per second. Once we get over that, it gets into people’s yards and goes into the park at lock and dam,” he said.

Lowering the Augusta reservoir wouldn’t make an impact unless it didn’t rain at all.

“If you’re going to draw things down, you run the risk that if it doesn’t hit, you have other operational issues because now you’re too low. It is a balancing act,” said Hyatt.

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