Dec. 23–It’s a pleasure to congratulate the Augusta Commission on doing the right thing, especially on an important issue.
Tuesday’s unanimous commission vote clearly is the right thing — a resolution opposing any change that would lower the pool of water that Augusta relies on upstream of the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam.
That resolution essentially underscored a resolution the commission passed in May of last year, asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to consider repairing the Lock and Dam and building a fish passage instead of the Corps’ misguided proposal of destroying the Lock and Dam altogether and building a rock weir for migrating fish.
But Tuesday’s action sent a stronger, more important message: All sorts of area groups are now uniting to fight for what’s best for our precious Savannah River.
For decades, the Lock and Dam has been a crucial piece of engineering that officials have used to “maintain the pool” of the Savannah River — that is, the water level on which Augusta depends.
Thriving industries depend on that water level each day when they draw water from the river. Billions of dollars in commercial and residential development depend on that water level each day to exist, because it’s that water level that helps stabilize the very ground on which all of that is built.
The Corps wants to replace the Lock and Dam with a rock weir — basically a large pile of rocks that can’t be manipulated like the gates of the Lock and Dam. But the Corps insists the weir is needed as part of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. The deepening of the river, as part of that project, would cause saltwater to creep further upstream and supposedly disrupt spawning grounds of several species of fish.
The problem with the Corps’ plan? Instead of the hand of man guiding the Lock and Dam floodgates to maintain proper pool levels, Mother Nature alone would determine the water levels if a rock weir is built. Those levels could go up, flooding owners’ valuable property, or levels could go down, destroying riverbanks and any investments that people have put into riverbank development.
That’s unacceptable. It’s wrong. And it’s clearly not in the best interests of the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives depend, in one way or another, on the river’s water-level reliability.
The much more practical solution is to repair the Lock and Dam, to retain human control of the pool level, and for good measure construct some sort of complementary fish passage. But we should add that when the Lock and Dam gates were fully operational, about 80 percent of fish, by one estimation, were able to get through it anyway.
The repair-and-passage option isn’t on the Corps’ radar. But it should be.
That’s why the community is banding together in opposition to the Corps’ awful plan. That’s why Augusta has passed resolutions. That’s why North Augusta firmly is in favor of saving the Lock and Dam. That’s why the Metro Augusta Chamber of Commerce stands by its policy statement from last summer stating clearly that repairing the lock and dam and constructing a fish passage is the “optimal solution.”
Everybody — cities, counties, chambers, industries — needs to get behind a plan for the Lock and Dam that works for everybody.