Restoring Savannah River Shoals: Two States, a Canal and a Redhorse

The Augusta Shoals is a critical reach of the Savannah River near Aiken, South Carolina and Augusta, Georgia. “Shoals” are stretches of shallow, rocky rapids and were once common in Southeast Rivers – but many of these rivers have been drowned by dams. Shoals provide unique habitat for freshwater fish and mussels.

More than 4 miles long and up to 1,500 feet wide, the Augusta Shoals is a series of riffles and rapids that harbors numerous fish and wildlife species. Of particular note are the federally endangered shortnose sturgeon and other rare species like Atlantic sturgeon, robust redhorse and the rocky shoals spider lily. The Augusta Shoals is the last of this important habitat type for the Savannah River as all others have been lost due to extensive dam construction in the basin.

American Rivers is working to improve the health of the Savannah River’s Augusta Shoals. We successfully negotiated a new agreement with the City of Augusta, Georgia and the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League (SCCCL) to improve natural water flows from upstream dams.

American Rivers and SCCCL have been actively involved in the licensing of the Augusta canal and diversion dam for more than a decade.  The settlement with the City resolves a contested permit issued by the state of Georgia and needed by the City for operating the Augusta Canal and Diversion Dam.  American Rivers and the Coastal Conservation League challenged the permit because it did not require water flow to be maintained in the shoals and failed to include conditions to protect federally and state endangered species in the shoals.

The successful settlement between the parties was signed in September 2011 and includes agreement on seasonal water flow requirements that will keep the Augusta Shoals healthy, installation of gage stations for flow monitoring, and fish passage requirements that will allow migrating fish to return to historic spawning grounds.

The City of Augusta operates a diversion dam and canal that supplies water for its municipal water system and hydropower operations, and diverts a significant amount of water the Savannah River.  Because of the location of the dam and configuration of the canal, water is diverted from the Augusta Shoals.  One of the largest rivers on the East coast, the Savannah River’s Augusta Shoals has average daily flows in excess of 10,000 cubic feet per second (cfs).  Historically, water flows as low as 65 cfs have been documented in the Augusta Shoals when virtually all water is diverted into the canal.

One last step remains for restoring the Augusta Shoals through the licensing of the Augusta canal and diversion dam.  A permit is also needed from the state of South Carolina because the Savannah is an interstate river forming for some 400 miles the border between South Carolina and Georgia.  With parties now in agreement over the terms of the Georgia permit, a resolution is on the horizon.