New Savannah Bluff Lock & Dam, GA & SC

PROJECT NAME AND STATESavannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) Fish Passage at New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam (NSBLD), GA and SC

AUTHORIZATION (NSBLD):  Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) 2000, Sec. 348(1) (P.L. 106-541), amended by the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2000, P.L. 106-554

AUTHORIZATION (SHEP):  Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) 2014, Sec. 7002(1) (P.L. 113-121); Water Infrastructure Improvements to the Nation (WIIN) Act 2016, Sec. 1319 (P.L. 114-322); Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) 2018 (P.L. 115-270)

DEAUTHORIZATION (NSBLD):   Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act 2016, Sec. 1319 (P.L. 114-322)

LOCATION AND DESCRIPTION:  Navigation. The New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam (NSBLD), completed in 1937, is located 187 miles upstream of the mouth of the Savannah River, and approximately 13 miles downstream from Augusta, Georgia.  The project was authorized for commercial navigation; however, due to a lack of commercial use, the project has been in a caretaker status since 1979.  The structure currently provides a stable pool for water supply intakes for six (6) large industries and two (2) municipalities and recreation to downtown Augusta and areas near the Lock & Dam.  WRDA 2000 authorized the USACE to rehabilitate the lock and dam at full Federal expense with the option to transfer it to North Augusta/Aiken County, South Carolina.  The Consolidated Appropriations Act 2001 added fish passage to the project and removed the estimated cost from the authorization.  The WIIN Act 2016 deauthorized the NSBLD and repealed/replaced language in WRDA 2000/2001 Appropriations Act with requirements to fulfill fish passage mitigation under the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP).

ACTIVITIES COMPLETED IN FY2019:   The District transmitted the Final NSBLD LRR on 28 July 2016.  The report included updated costs to rehabilitate/repair the lock and dam, rehabilitate/repair the dam only, an updated cost to construct the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) fish passage around the lock and dam and transfer of the lock and dam to the City of North Augusta/Aiken County, SC at a total cost of $55.7M.  South Atlantic Division transmitted the report to HQUSACE on 15 September 2016.  Modification/removal of the deauthorized structure and implementing fish passage are being evaluated under the SHEP as outlined in the WIIN Act 2016.


WRDA 2000 directed the Corps to rehabilitate the lock and dam at full Federal expense with an option to transfer it to North Augusta/Aiken County, South Carolina following execution of an agreement.  The Consolidated Appropriations Act 2001 added fish passage and removed the estimated cost from the authorization thereby eliminating a Section 902 limit for the rehabilitation.  Congress did not appropriate Federal funds required to implement the rehabilitation.  The NSBLD has been operated in a caretaker status since 1979 when commercial navigation ceased.  The dam spillway gates are operated to manage pool levels remotely from the control room at J. Strom Thurmond Dam and the City of North Augusta had operated the lock under an agreement with the Corps periodically for recreational boats and provided a means for upstream fish passage (approximately 90 lock movements per year).  However, the condition of the 80-year old piers and lock walls has significantly deteriorated compelling the Corps to close public access to the lock wall in May 2014 and terminate all lock operations due to safety concerns. 

The WIIN Act 2016 deauthorizes the NSBLD and provides the Secretary with options to modify the SHEP fish passage feature as follows:

            1) Repair the NSBLD lock wall and modify the structure such that the structure is able to:

  • Maintain the pool for navigation, water supply, and recreational activities
  • Allow safe passage over the structure to historic spawning grounds of shortnose sturgeon, Atlantic sturgeon, and other migratory fish; OR

2) Construction at an appropriate location across the Savannah River of a structure that is able to maintain the pool for water supply and recreational activities; and removal of the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam on completion of construction of the fish passage structure; and conveyance of the park and recreation area adjacent to the NSBLD to Augusta-Richmond County, Georgia, without consideration.

The Corps Implementation Guidance for the WIIN Act indicates that the selected plan was not to maintain a specific elevation but to maintain functionality of the pool for the purposes of navigation, water supply, and recreation. 

The draft Post-Authorization Analysis Report (PAAR) identifies the recommended plan to remove NSBLD and build a full river-width fish passage consisting of a rock weir and floodplain bench to fulfill fish passage requirements as required by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Biological Opinion for the approved SHEP project.  The fish passage feature is cost shared under the SHEP.  The current schedule identifies completion of a decision document in the 4th quarter of FY19.

The draft report was issued for public review and comment on 15 February 2019 and comment period closed on 16 April 2019.  The draft report recommended plan consists of removal of the NSBLD and construction of a fixed-crest weir with floodplain bench, full-river width fish passage.  In conjunction with the draft report review period, a simulation event was conducted lowering the pool elevation to demonstrate the effects on the pool with construction of the recommended plan.  Under the simulated recommended plan water levels, the training wall became exposed.  The training wall is a feature of the Savannah River Below Augusta navigation project constructed c. 1910 and is a known navigational hazard for recreational boating.  A request for a separate disposition study for the training wall was submitted by the Savannah District to South Atlantic Division for approval and funding.

With release of the draft report and completion of the simulation event, the mayors and stakeholders from Augusta, GA and North Augusta, SC have expressed their displeasure with the current recommended alternative to remove the lock and dam.  In addition, there has been significant interest from the Congressional delegations from both Georgia and South Carolina indicating similar displeasure with the recommended plan included in the draft report.  These select members from Georgia and South Carolina sent a joint letter to the ASA(CW) and Chief of Engineers sharing local concerns and expressing their opposition to implementation of the recommended plan. 

The State of South Carolina has also recently passed legislation blocking funding for water quality certifications by the Department of Health and Environmental Control (SC DHEC) unless the fish passage maintains current water levels.  The Savannah District is not seeking a new Water Quality Certification because the needs described in the PAAR and supplemental Environmental Assessment are consistent with the original GRR/EIS for SHEP.  In addition, the South Carolina Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) is no longer consulting or participating in the development of the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) required for Section 106 compliance for the PAAR.


Draft Post-Authorization Analysis Report                                            15 Feb 2019 (A)

IEPR of Draft Report Completed                                                            22 May 2019 (A)

Final Report Decision                                                                                2 Sept 2019


ACTION OFFICER:  Margarett McIntosh                                               11 June 2019