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Potential mitigation approach to minimize salinity intrusion in the Lower Savannah River Estuary due to reduced controlled releases from Lake Thurmond

July 1, 2010

The Savannah River originates at the confluence of the Seneca and Tugaloo Rivers, near Hartwell, Ga. and forms the State boundary between South Carolina and Georgia. The J. Strom Thurmond Dam and Lake, located 187 miles upstream from the coast, is responsible for most of the flow regulation that affects the Savannah River from Augusta to the coast. The Savannah Harbor experiences semi-diurnal tides of two high and two low tides in a 24.8-hour period with pronounced differences in tidal range between neap and spring tides occurring on a 14-day and 28-day lunar cycle. The Savannah National Wildlife Refuge is located in the Savannah River Estuary. The tidal freshwater marsh is an essential part of the 28,000-acre refuge and is home to a diverse variety of wildlife and plant communities. The Southeastern U.S. experienced severe drought conditions in 2008 and if the conditions had persisted in Georgia and South Carolina, Thurmond Lake could have reached an emergency operation level where outflow from the lake is equal to the inflow to the lake. To decrease the effect of the reduced releases on downstream resources, a stepped approach was proposed to reduce the flow in increments of 500 cubic feet per second (ft3/s) intervals. Reduced flows from 3,600 ft3/s to 3,100 ft3/s and 2,600 ft3/s were simulated with two previously developed models of the Lower Savannah River Estuary to evaluate the potential effects on salinity intrusion. The end of the previous drought (2002) was selected as the baseline condition for the simulations with the model. Salinity intrusion coincided with the 28-day cycle semidiurnal tidal cycles. The results show a difference between the model simulations of how the salinity will respond to the decreased flows. The Model-to-Marsh Decision Support System (M2MDSS) salinity response shows a large increase in the magnitude (> 6.0 practical salinity units, psu) and duration (3-4 days) of the salinity intrusion with extended periods (21 days) of tidal freshwater remaining in the system. The Environmental Fluid Dynamic Code (EFDC) model predicts increases in the magnitude of the salinity intrusion but only to 2 and 3 psu and the intrusion duration greater than a week. A potential mitigation to the increased salinity intrusion predicted by the M2MDSS would be to time pulses of increase flows to reduce the magnitude of the intrusion. Seven-day streamflow pulses of 4,500 ft3/s were inserted into the constant 3,100 ft3/s streamflow condition. The streamflow pulses did substantially decrease the magnitude and duration of the salinity intrusion. The result of the streamflow pulse scenario demonstrates how alternative release patterns from Lake Thurmond could be utilized to mitigate potential salinity changes in the Lower Savannah River Estuary.

Publication Year 2010
Title Potential mitigation approach to minimize salinity intrusion in the Lower Savannah River Estuary due to reduced controlled releases from Lake Thurmond
Authors Paul Conrads, James M. Greenfield
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Index ID 70157573
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization South Atlantic Water Science Center