Lower water levels – for the fishes? Downtown plans could change with Corps work

Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019
(News 12 at 6 O’Clock / NBC 26 at 7)

(WRDW/WAGT) – What’s normally the Savannah River has become a pit of mud and puddles as the Army Corps of Engineers works to help the fish population. The issue has mostly affected people living on the river in North Augusta, but now it’s starting to affect plans in downtown Augusta.

Thursday evening the water is about four inches short of the river’s lowest level. That’s what we’ll be seeing Thursday, according to the Corps.

"The purpose of this particular feature of the deepening is to get the endangered fish back to the original spawning ground, which is upstream at the Lock and Dam,” explained Russell Wicke, the spokesman for the Savannah District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The Corps is following orders from Congress, but some people care more about the look and use of the river than the fish.

"The Savannah River is one of our biggest assets, downtown's biggest asset and we need to protect it," says Margaret Woodard.

Woodard is with the Downtown Development Authority.

"The DDA supports the resolution that the mayor and commission passed a couple weeks ago, that the levels do need to remain at about 114.5 feet."

Wicke says the city of Augusta wants to replace the Lock and Dam with a new structure, but he says that's way more expensive than a rock wall.

"Our goal is to fulfill the intent of Congress and the administration, and to do that in the most cost-effective way."

Wicke says they chose the design that would cost taxpayers less, but that means the river levels will drop.

"The adjustment is it's going to be a little bit lower, but it will still be there."

But Woodard says the river looks a lot lower than she expected. Now she's worried what it may do for plans to develop the riverfront at the depot.

"It's going to have 140 apartments with river views, 100,000 square foot office building with views."

But it may not have the view we're all used to seeing. For now, Woodard, and the rest of us will just have to wait and see how this plays out.

The River will reach the targeted level sometime Wednesday morning. If the plan meets the intent of Congress, the Corps says they’ll start construction on the fish passage in January of 2021.

The construction will take about two years.