HARTWELL, Ga. — The bistate Savannah River Caucus met on Wednesday to a sign an agreement to continue a comprehensive study of the Savannah River Basin.

Formed this spring, the caucus is made up of senate and house members from both South Carolina and Georgia. The group inked the document in Hartwell and will now study the drought conditions in the river basin.

“We're going to analyze drought conditions south of Thurmond Dam,” said Col. Thomas Tickner, commander of the Savannah District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “This signing event represents the hard work that has already been put forth and brings us one step closer to a more comprehensive study of our river.”

According to Tickner, the study will be followed by a larger study of the entire basin to give the caucus a better understanding of problems along the river. One of the major problems the caucus will be looking to address is pollution in the river.

“The Savannah River is the fourth most toxic river in the United States,” said Tonya Bonitatibus of Savannah Riverkeeper, an environmental consultant group. “We have to dilute that waste. We can't look at it as state-by-state issue, so I applaud this group for its studies. It should be the most studied river in the world because it's one of the most toxic.”

Another concern the caucus addressed was the economic implications of the river. The caucus alone represents more than 2 million residents, with another several million visitors along the river each year.

“Our future growth, in manufacturing and retail, is very closely tied to the quality of life,” said Paul Corbeil, vice chairman of the Oconee County Council. “Companies will not move here if we have water issues, so it's imperative that we concern ourselves with the river in order to prosper in economic development.”

“We don't need to wait until there's a crisis to deal with,” said South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. “We need to create a business plan for our economic development. This caucus is a great partnership and just a small example of things to come.”

Following the upcoming studies, the caucus will look to Congress for federal funding to continue work along the basin.

Derrek Asberry is a beat reporter with the Aiken Standard news team and joined the paper in June. He is originally from Vidalia, Ga., and graduated from Georgia Southern University with a journalism degree.