Fixed weir simulation delayed due to wet weather

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Friday, December 28, 2018
News 12 @ 11

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- On January 5th, The Army Corps of Engineers was planning on incrementally lowering the Savannah River. They wanted to show the community how the river would be under their suggested plan for the Lock and Dam -- if that plan for a fixed rock weir is approved.

But because of rain here, and upstream, that simulation might not happen at all.

After months of rain, the Savannah River and its tributaries are filling up. Some neighbors, like Landon Ball, are seeing it first hand.

"When you live down here, and build your house, you do so with the understanding that you may get some water up around it periodically," said Ball. He lives on the North Augusta side of the river.

The Lake Hartwell sub-basin broke a 70 year rainfall record for the month of December on Friday with nearly 11 inches recorded. The water up at Hartwell drains down into the Lake Russell sub-basin, then the Lake Thurmond sub-basin, and finally into the Savannah River and its tributaries.

That water also makes its way to Landon's yard.

"We watch the river forecast and keep an eye on it so that when things get ugly we can prepare for it," said Ball.

That record breaking rainfall is also impacting federal projects, too. The Army Corps of Engineers was planning on lowering the Savannah River incrementally starting on January 5th. It's about a 10 day process, so they wanted to give community members enough time to see river levels before the Corps opens its public comment period.

That comment period is so the Corps can get feedback on it's suggested plan for the Lock and Dam. They hope to remove the Lock and Dam structure, put in a fixed crest weir underwater, and add a floodplain bench. The Corps' presented that suggested plan in November at a public meeting in North Augusta.

A lot goes into it, but the Corps' goal is to make sure certain fish can pass through the area. Under the WIIN Act, the Corps has to come up with a solution for the Lock and Dam structure within a certain deadline, too.

"We've had to postpone indefinitely that simulation," said Billy Birdwell, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers. "It's not gonna happen (in January) because of things we can't control -- rain,"

The Corps hopes to do that simulation in early February so the public has time to form opinions on the pool simulation. But, in order to do so the Corps says runoff levels need to return to acceptable levels by the end of January. Because the Corps is on deadline, if they can't do it in February, the simulation might not happen.

"I think they do need to wait until it dries out a little bit and the water runs out of the ground," said Ball.

If the Corps doesn't do the rock weir pool simulation, it is still full steam ahead on their set timeline for the Lock and Dam project. The Corps revealed that plan back in November. They have federal deadlines to meet. They wanted to do the simulation for transparency, and so the community could see first hand how the pool on the river would be impacted under their suggested plan, not because they're required to.

When and if the simulation happens, Landon and his family -- and so many others in Augusta -- will be paying close attention.

"We'll go right down to the river, take pictures, look at the issues, take our boat out and see what's happening," said Ball.

The plan the Corps is suggesting is not a done deal. There are several steps that have to happen before the plan is final and is set into motion.

Back in November, the Corps said after 30 days of public comment on their plans in February, they'll take those comments, review them, and finalize the plan. They hope to present a more finalized plan by the end of the summer of 2019, and begin construction about a year later. They have to begin construction no later than January of 2021.