Army Corps of Engineers forced to dial back water released in lakes due to hot temperatures

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Thursday, October 3, 2019
News 12 at 11

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The hot temps aren't just affecting us. It's affecting the lake too, which could impact your weekend plans.

We need rain so badly that the Army Corps is forced to put their drought plan in place. Now they have to dial back how much water they release from the lakes.

Here at the Savannah River, water levels are looking pretty normal. But that's not the case everywhere in our area. In fact, this is the lowest water levels have been all year, and they could continue to fall.

"We just recently entered the first of what we call our drought triggers so that happens when either Lake Thurmond or Lake Hartwell drops below their normal pool levels," said Scott Hyatt, with the Army Corps of Engineers

The lakes have dropped four feet below those normal levels, forcing the corps of engineers to dial back how much water they release.

"The big impact there is as we have lower releases, we're generating less power with it, so we're generating less hours per day," said Hyatt.

Normally, anywhere from 40,000 to 64,000 of gallons of water are released from the lake per second. With the drought, they've been forced to cut it back to just over 30,000 gallons per second.

“The whole point of the conservation efforts is to make sure you don't run out of water in the lake," said Hyatt.

Hyatt says the lakes need to drop two more feet to move into the second drought trigger, something he says only happens every few years. But with the lakes lowering at about a foot per week, if we don't get rain in the next two weeks that could happen.

"The longterm forecast is giving us some indicators that this will not be clearing up any time soon," said Hyatt.

For now, he says you'll notice more immediate effects on the lake than the river.

"Areas that are normally submerged will come to the surface so there will be hazards in different place outside the channel than there are when the lake is higher," said Hyatt.

Hyatt says one of the big reasons the lakes have been lowering is the leaves staying on trees, causing them to suck up more water. He says with the heat the way it is, they could stop releasing water from the lakes entirely, and their levels would still drop because of evaporation.