Thurmond Lake Status

Thurmond Lake has risen almost 8 feet since December as a result of the regular rainfall throughout January and February. However, the return to full pool may still be elusive.

According to the Army Corps of Engineers, requests to keep the outflows from Thurmond Lake at 3,800 cubic feet per second (cfs) have been denied. In February, the outflows increased to 4,000 cfs in following with the drought management plan in place. While many groups advocated to keep the lower volume in order to build the lake back up to full pool, they were ultimately denied based on the following environmental reasons:

  • The Savannah National Wildlife Refuge has observed higher than normal salinities and requires freshwater to assist in filling impoundments for spring shorebird migration.
  • Spring is the timeframe when discharge should naturally increase, thereby facilitating spawning of multiple species of fishes, including anadromous and imperiled species such as American shad, Atlantic sturgeon, shortnose sturgeon and robust redhorse. Reduced flows could affect spawning cues, availability of spawning habitat, and larval survival.
  • Numerous stranded mussels have been observed near the confluence of downstream oxbows (bow-shaped bends in the river) and the main channel of the Savannah River. These mussels are vulnerable to higher mortality rates due to deteriorating water quality conditions and depredation.
  • The preliminary analysis of water quality in oxbows shows dissolved oxygen levels that fall below state standards and that may be harmful to wildlife.
  • Recreational fishing access in oxbows is impaired due to shallow water conditions.
  • The Augusta Canal continues to divert a large volume of water from the Augusta Shoals. A seasonal flow increase according to the existing Drought Plan could potentially benefit shoal-inhabiting fauna, versus the proposed static 3,800 cfs discharge.

The Corps maintains that recent rainfall has been the reason for the increase in lake level, not the decreased outflows. They predict that with continued rainfall, the lake will return to full pool on its own. However, they cannot predict when that will be since we continue to have dry periods without rain. When we have steady rainfall for at least one year, then they will be able to accurately predict an end to the drought. Until then, we’ll keep our fingers crossed.

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