Clean Water Success on South Carolina’s Saluda

On the last weekend of July, a friend and I went to the Saluda River, just a few miles from downtown the Columbia, SC to cool off, kayak and fish – cooling off being the top priority with temperatures topping 100 degrees.

We were not the only ones with that idea as we were joined by flotillas of families, anglers and paddlers. It’s no secret that the Saluda is the coolest place in famously hot Columbia, as waters released from the bottom of Lake Murray Dam stay cool all summer long.

While many know the Saluda River is a cool place to go, few probably understood that the flow around 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) they experienced that day would be the lowest flow under the new federal operating license soon to be granted to SCE.

I knew and my smile came easily and often that day. Gone will be the days of extremely low flows set at historic leakage from the dam when it wasn’t operating.

Gone were the periods of late summer and fall when dissolved oxygen in water released from the dam plummets to near zero. My smile broadened when I realized the lead role American Rivers had in brokering these water quality improvements.

While many think of clean quality being the amount of pollutants, nutrients or oxygen in the water, it is actually much bigger than that.

The technical definition of water quality encompasses not only these water chemistry components, but the physical quality of the water – the amount of water flow and habitat –  and the biological quality of the water – are the fish, aquatic insects, freshwater mussels and crayfish, to name a few, demonstrating a healthy aquatic community.

When the new license is issued – we are awaiting final clearance related to the Endangered Species Act – it will set the operating conditions for the next 30 to 50 years. New turbines that enhance oxygen levels will be installed. 

New minimum flows to be released from the dam will range from a low target of 500 cfs during drought periods, 700 cfs to 1000 cfs under normal conditions and flows up to 2,700 cfs during spring periods to improve spawning conditions for striped bass, American shad and other fish that utilize the Saluda and Congaree rivers.  This addresses two of the three component of water quality. The third component, the biological health of the river, will surely respond to these improvements. 

My smile returns again as I write this blog and realize how clean water improvements for the Saluda River will have great and long-lasting benefits not just for the river but also for the generations families, boaters and anglers who will enjoy it.