Lake Hartwell Association

Executive Director's Update

January 8, 2016


First, let me apologize for not being able to prepare this update sooner. The recent notice from the Corps of Engineers concerning irrigation permits and endangered species caught everyone by surprise, and its timing in the middle of the holiday season was not the best. I spent a couple days last week just trying to contact those who may be able to shed some light on the subjects...happy holidays! The better part of this week has been spent gathering and trying to assess information that will help in trying to make some sense out of the irrigation issue, and to determine what, if anything, can be done to reverse or at least lessen its impact. Meanwhile, I will share with all of you what I have been able to find out, and what I am thinking we may be able to do about it. I have already had telephone conversations with a number of you and will be happy to have more, so please feel free to call me at 864-202-5204 with your questions and/or suggestions.

Brig. Gen. Turner, Commander of the Corps South Atlantic Division apparently made the irrigation decision when it was determined that the Corps does not have Congressional authority to permit the watering of lawns and gardens using water from Corps lakes. This caught most everyone, including the Hartwell Project office, by surprise. His original order was to halt all irrigation effective January 1. This impacts 27 Corps lakes located in the Southeast, including Hartwell which is one of the largest. Hartwell currently has more than 11,000 active Corps permits with owners of land adjacent to Corps property...2666 of those include irrigation using lake water.   Our local Corps representatives were able to have the ruling modified so that those holding permits could irrigate until their permits expire. Permits are good for 5 years. Grandfathering was also suggested, but you can't grandfather something you have no authority to permit in the first place.

Meanwhile, I have had discussions with our local U.S. House Representatives' offices, Jeff Duncan (SC) and Doug Collins (GA) to begin exploring what can be done at the federal level to allow irrigation to continue. I have also spoken with elected officials of both states who have participated in the joint state water caucuses. They are also agreeing to do whatever they can at the states' level. Keep in mind that Lake Hartwell's water is the property of the two states and is managed by the Corps; therefore most changes in Corps operations normally require action by all three.

A couple of our members, who happen to be engineers whose careers involved hydrology, have looked into the technical aspects the irrigation issue. Basically, their assessments have been that the technical impact of halting the direct watering of lawns and gardens with lake water will have no noticeable impact on the lakes. Watering will most likely continue using local treated water which is also likely to be lake water treated and delivered by a local municipal provider. Also, the amount of water used is miniscule when compared with other uses.

So, please know that the Lake Hartwell Association has been and will continue to pursue the irrigation issue. Meanwhile, you can continue to use lake water directly from the lake to water lawns and gardens until your permits to do so expires...remember that permits are good for 5 years. Then, you don't have to remove your pump and you can use lake water to wash your dock, boat, etc. so long as the water used flows back into the lake.

Just a reminder. Some have asked for a schedule of lake level projections considering the extremely high levels we have been experiencing. Projections of late have been short lived considering the recent heavy rains experienced throughout the Southeast; and according to long range weather forecasts El Nino is not going away anytime soon. Also, keep in mind that projections are developed at the Corps' Savannah District office and cover the entire Savannah River Basin which not only receives water from the lakes, but also from rivers and creeks below Lake Thurmond...including flows from the Broad River in Eastern Georgia that has been at or near flood levels. The Corps has no way to control that it demands a higher priority when calculating flow and level projections. Therefore, heavy rains in the Broad River watershed will often require that upstream lakes such as Hartwell will have to retain much higher levels for a longer period of time. Hartwell Dam has been running all power turbines for longer stretches. This amounts to a flow of about 40K cfs which will help bring the Hartwell level down very gradually.

We must remember that flood control is the reason Hartwell and Thurmond dams were built, and remains to be their first priority. Without them major flooding downstream could be catastrophic.

By now you should have a Corps' email we forwarded to all members that has links to the Savannah Office's facebook and twitter sites. Those are constantly updated with latest information on levels, flows and other information. Please email if you did not receive that email. I am told that you can use their twitter option to send questions and should have an answer within two hours.

Herb Burnham

LHA Executive Director