Jul 6, 2003
S.C. officials worry about water flow
Morning News

The future of water flow to the Great Pee Dee River will be the topic when environmental officials from Progress Energy and Alcoa meet to discuss water flow plans Monday.

The two companies own a series of dams on a 60-mile stretch of the Yadkin River in North Carolina. Water from the reservoirs created by those dams flow into the Great Pee Dee, controlling its depth.

The companies are in a relicensing process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and must come up with a plan to regulate the flow of water downstream. Both companies have models for water usage, and they will discuss ways to combine the plans Monday.

But South Carolina officials are worried that the plans don't take the Pee Dee into account.
"I think the two critical issues to us are that, number one, we want one model for the entire Yadkin/Pee Dee River Basin," said Florence Mayor Frank Willis. "The other issue is the minimum flow requirement, and you can't determine a minimum flow until you have the model in place."

Willis said last year's drought demonstrated the need to make sure the Great Pee Dee is considered in the relicensing process. Water levels got so low last summer that industries and municipalities were forced to reduce operations. The City of Georgetown had to begin getting its water from the Grand Strand because salt water from the Atlantic Ocean crept up the river basin.

"It's critical to us," Willis said. "It's one thing to look at the river when it's full like it is now, but this relicensing is for 50 years. If we don't cover this now, we won't have another chance for 50 years."

Last year at the height of the drought, Willis formed the Pee Dee River Coalition, a group of industrial and municipal leaders that depend on the river for fresh water. The coalition is working to make sure South Carolina has a say in the relicensing process.

The dams on the upper Yadkin are owned by Alcoa, and the company controls the amount of water released to the Progress Energy dams on the southern part of the river. The amount of water released by Progress Energy determines the amount of water flow into the Pee Dee, said Danny Johnson of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

"They, (Alcoa) control all the water that comes down to the Progress Energy reservoirs," he said. "They control the spigot for the water that comes all the way down to the Great Pee Dee."

Johnson said there is a great deal of pressure being put on Alcoa to include the lower portion of the Yadkin/Pee Dee Basin when creating flow models for its relicensing application.

"They're supposed to be worrying about where the impact is," Johnson said. "I would hope that FERC would see the logic of that."

Johnson said that although the meeting in Pinehurst, N.C., between the two companies is not a public meeting, DNR will have a representative there.

Alcoa officials say they will consider the needs of South Carolina residents and industries when developing models for their license applications.

"We have issue advisory groups that have been meeting since March to do study plans of the many issues that come up in a relicensing," said Gene Ellis of Alcoa.

Ellis said issue advisory groups include some that will report on the impact of water flow in the lower part of the basin.

"There is one called the operations model, and a fish and aquatics group," he said. "They deal with flows downstream, and the impact."

Ellis said the meeting between Progress Energy and Alcoa will be strictly to find out if the two companies' water flow models can work together. But DHEC officials want to see one model for both companies.

"We've been working to make sure Progress and Alcoa have a single model that includes the entire basin," Johnson said.
The issue is so critical that South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster has threatened legal action if the Great Pee Dee River is left out of the plans.

"We have requested a meeting with Sen. Lindsey Graham to discuss the possibility of legal action if these issues are not resolved," said Trey Walker, spokesman for the attorney general's office. "It's the attorney general's intention to make sure, the situation that existed last year during the drought never happens again."

The relicensing application must be submitted by Alcoa and Progress Energy by April 30, 2006. Several public hearings will be conducted before the application is submitted.

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