New Project to Provide Information for Savannah River Flow Requirements

Phinizy Center Starts New Project to Provide Needed Information on Ecosystem Flow Requirements for the Savannah River


Photo courtesy of the US Army Corps of Engineers

River flow below Clarks Hill Lake is regulated by the United States Army Corps of Engineers at Thurmond Dam. In recent years there has been an increased effort to understand how different flows affect the ecology of the river and incorporate this information into how water is managed in the Savannah River Basin. This information is vital during drought conditions when we need to conserve water in the reservoirs but still provide enough water to protect the aquatic ecology within the river below the dam. Data from this project will help support the ongoing Savannah River Basin Comprehensive Study (Interim 2), which focuses on reservoir and river management during drought conditions.

This month, our research team will begin a new 14-month project on the Savannah River. The goal of this study is to determine how different flows in the river affect certain organisms; this will allow us to develop flow recommendations during times of drought. We will collaborate with Dr. Richard Horwitz, a fisheries expert with the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University (ANSP-DU), to develop annual flow recommendations using ANSP-DU’s annual Savannah River fisheries data which dates back to 1952 and historical United States Geological Survey flow data. From this data we can determine how flows in one year affected different fish species survival and growth in subsequent years. This approach works well for long-lived species like fish, but is insufficient for making recommendations for species with shorter lifespans. As a result, we will develop monthly flow recommendations using aquatic insect production, which is simply a measure of how much insect growth occurs over a given time. Insects perform an important function in aquatic food webs by eating bacteria, algae, and dead plant material and serving as prey for other aquatic animals like fish. To measure this production, we will sample aquatic insects for 12 months to determine how long each generation lives in the water and measure growth rates for each species. We will be able to determine how flows impact these organisms and provide monthly flow recommendations from the aquatic insect data. We will collaborate with Dr. Checo Colon-Gaud at Georgia Southern University on this portion of the project.

A portion of the funding for this project was awarded to Phinizy Center for Water Sciences by the Savannah-Upper Ogeechee Water Council through a matching grant opportunity from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s Regional Water Plan Seed Grant program. Funds provided to Phinizy Center from Columbia County’s Water Utility Program, in support of our Savannah River research program, were used as matching funds for this grant.