HARTWELL, Ga. — Governors and lawmakers from South Carolina and Georgia have promised a new cooperation on water management in the Savannah River Basin.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and her Georgia counterpart, Gov. Nathan Deal, headlined a meeting of elected officials, conservationists and Army Corps of Engineers representatives on Wednesday at Lake Hartwell, a man-made reservoir near the beginning of the Savannah River that divides the two states.
Officials signed an agreement to update drought management plans for the basin, the latest phase of a long-term study of Savannah River management financed by the federal government and both states.
Col. Thomas Tickner, commander of the Corps’ Savannah District that manages Lake Hartwell and other reservoirs, said the next phase will reassess “the minimum environmentally acceptable release” from reservoirs amid drought conditions.
The larger purpose
Wednesday was mostly symbolic, as the governors and legislators said they hope the new spirit prevents future water litigation.
“That’s the worst place to settle our differences,” Deal said, adding that compacts and communication are the way “to take advantage of what has been granted to us by God and by nature.”
Haley said “competition will always be there” in economic development. But, she added, “We are better together every day of the week than we are separately.”
The fledgling Savannah River Basin Caucus, formed by members of the general assemblies from both states, sponsored the event. The group was formed during drought conditions that exacerbated differences among varying interest groups along the river.
Lake communities such as Hartwell suffer economically when low water levels drive down tourism spending. But communities down river clamor for reservoir transfers to supply drinking water.
Conservationists, meanwhile, note that water levels in the river must be maintained for healthy marine habitats and to ensure safe dissolution of deposits from industrial sites in the basin.