Clark Hill club helps get funding restored
STRIPED BASS AND other fish species in Lake Thurmond will breathe easier in the hot summer when oxygen levels are depleted, thanks to the efforts of the Clark Hill Striper Club.
Heeding appeals of the striper club and others, the U.S. Senate has restored funding in the fiscal 2007 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill for a system designed to provide oxygen-enriched habitat for fish in the lower end of Lake Thurmond during hot weather.
Funding had been cut in the House version of the bill. When word reached the striper club and other area fishermen of the House action, the striper fishermen mobilized an effort to get the funds restored.
They began a letter-writing and e-mail campaign to senators and U.S. House members in both Georgia and South Carolina, took the issue to the Augusta-area press, and organized a petition drive that garnered 13 pages of signatures in a one-day radio broadcast from West Marine in Augusta.
The Senate version provides $4.6 million for the project, lower than the $5.5 million the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sought, but adequate to complete the system, which is 90 percent design complete. The budget now goes to a Senate-House Conference Committee to work out details, and Washington sources said the House is not expected to object to the reinstated funding.
The oxygen-infusion system, called a ?bubble line,? is expected to be completed and operational by late 2008, said Ed Lepley a striper club member from Martinez, Ga.
The project will consist of several miles of submerged pipes, perforated with tiny holes, located about five miles up the lake from Thurmond Dam in the Hamilton Branch-Modoc area. During times of low oxygen levels in the lake, pure oxygen will be released along this bubble line.
The cold, oxygenated water will offer opportunities for striped bass and baitfish to congregate in the Modoc area. Currently, big stripers, and the herring and shad they eat, often stay upriver toward the Russell Dam tailrace during hot weather.
?As water quality begins to deteriorate on the lower end of the lake during the hot summer months, they will be able to turn the oxygen on and provide oxygenated habitat for striped bass, hybrids, largemouths and other species,? Lepley said
?The bigger stripers now move up to the Lake Russell Dam tailrace this time of year because Russell Dam had a system to inject oxygen into the tail race when it is generating. That was done because, when the water is pumped back up into Russell, it loses oxygen.?
The corps agreed to build the bubble line to offset the loss of baitfish that are killed when Russell Dam?s reversible turbines are operated. Currently, a court order allows the corps to use only two of Russell?s four reversible units until the oxygen system is in place.
If the corps could use all four turbines, they could make more electricity and further slow the decline of lake levels, which is one reason the corps wants the oxygen system as badly as the fishermen do.
Augusta Chronicle outdoor columnist Rob Pavey noted that the recent declaration of drought across most of Georgia, and predictions that water levels at Thurmond Lake will soon plummet, makes the oxygen system even more important.
There is precedent for the oxygen infusion system, Lepley noted. A similar system was placed in Tennessee?s Lake Cherokee which gets really hot and oxygen deficient in the summer months.
?It worked so well there they had to put in an off-limit fishing zone around it for that time of year because the fish would bunch up around it and fishermen were catching too many,? Lepley said.