Water Resources:

Corps of Engineers' Drought Management of Savannah River Projects

RCED-89-169: Published: Jun 12, 1989. Publicly Released: Jun 12, 1989.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Army Corps of Engineers' management of the Hartwell, Russell, and Thurmond reservoirs in Georgia and South Carolina, focusing on the: (1) Corps' management of the reservoirs during the 1988 drought; (2) drought's effect on the reservoirs' ability to serve users; and (3) Corps' efforts to develop a drought contingency plan for the reservoirs.

GAO found that: (1) the Corps reduced releases from Lake Thurmond beginning in November 1987 and has maintained a constant release rate of 3,600 cubic feet per second since April 1988; (2) the levels of Lakes Thurmond and Hartwell were significantly affected by the drought; (3) the Corps gave water supply and quality maintenance the highest priority during the drought; (4) drought conditions severely curtailed recreational and hydropower uses of the reservoirs; and (5) the Corps was unable to generate sufficient hydropower to satisfy the Southeastern Power Administration's contractual obligations. GAO also found that the Corps: (1) had not completed its drought management plan when the current drought began; (2) did not complete the plan until more than 8 years after a regulation required it and more than 3 years after the Corps' initial target date for plan completion; (3) could have better maintained lake levels had it timely completed the plan; (4) has not completed drought contingency plans for over two-thirds of its water resource projects nationwide; and (5) failed to consider downstream inflows or worst-case scenarios in its drought management plan for the Savannah River Basin.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Corps Headquarters Office of Hydraulics and Hydrology staff reported on September 11, 1992 that this recommendation has been implemented. It stated that three specific improvements have been incorporated in a revised Savannah River Basin Drought Contingency Plan. GAO will verify through a review of the new plan and take an accomplishment report, if warranted.

    Recommendation: In order for the district to be better prepared to manage drought conditions in the Savannah River Basin, the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) should require the Chief Engineer to improve the Savannah District's drought contingency plan by ensuring that the plan: (1) is based on thoroughly documented and current water supply needs; (2) includes downstream inflows in determining releases from the projects; and (3) includes actions to be taken in worst-case situations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army: Office of the Assistant Secretary (Civil Works)

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Corps' Headquarters Office of Hydraulics and Hydrology staff reported at an exit conference on February 25, 1993, that all 334 drought contingency plans required have been completed as of September 30, 1992. GAO did not review the completed plans to verify that they are based on the three factors listed in the recommendation.

    Recommendation: So that the Corps is prepared nationwide to better manage ongoing and future drought situations, the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) should direct the Chief Engineer to ensure that each district has drought contingency plans for all controlled reservoir storage projects, and that the plans are based on a thorough analysis of user needs, adjust release rate calculations to account for downstream inflows, and include worst-case situation plans.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army: Office of the Assistant Secretary (Civil Works)


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