Broad River, SC: Restoring Flows, Fish and Flowers

Running through the heart of Columbia, the Broad River is flowing once again to the benefit of rare rocky shoals spider lilies, resident and migratory fish and water-based recreation.  For decades the Broad River was dewatered, receiving only leakage flow from the Columbia Diversion Dam. 

Now healthy flows up to 11 times more than before are released from the dam due to a federal operating license that will remain in effect until 2042.  The flows are adjusted seasonally to mimic natural flow variations with higher flows in winter and spring months, and lower flows in late summer and early fall.

For American Rivers, the hydropower relicensing marked an important victory. The new license provided for all of the most important conservation elements we sought. For Southeast Regional Director, Gerrit Jöbsis, this was a victory that hit home: “The Broad River greenway is where I pushed my sons’ strollers, where I took them fishing,” he says.

Thanks to the work of American Rivers and our partners, American shad and other fish are once again free to migrate 24 miles of the Broad River blocked by the dam for 150 years. In addition to the mainstream river access to historic spawning grounds, the fish can now reach 98 more miles of tributary streams. The City of Columbia, which owns the dam, installed the fish passage facility as a condition of the dam’s new license issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in 2006. 

The very first of its kind in the Southeast, fewer than 50 American shad, a migratory fish which like salmon on the West Coast moves from the ocean far up rivers to spawn in freshwater, swam over the dam by using the new passage facility during the first year of operation.  That number has increased to more than 700 shad in 2011.  Greater returns are forecast as benefits of several years of stocking shad in the Broad River are realized.  Generally, shad live 4 to 5 years in the ocean before reaching maturity and returning to their birth rivers to spawn.     

The City of Columbia has embraced the recreational opportunities resulting from increased flows and protections for the Broad River.  The re-licensing benefits added to the success of the River Alliance and City of Columbia’s amenity at Riverfront Park, which forms 2.5 miles of greenway space travelling from the diversion dam down to Laurel Street between the River and the Columbia Canal.  Features include access to the Broad River below the diversion dam, viewing opportunities at the fishway, restrooms, an amphitheater and picnic areas. 

Local paddling outfitters such as Adventure Carolina, River Runner and Get Your Gear On now offer boating trips down the Broad River and Columbia Canal, using Riverfront Park as an access point.  The City of Columbia has also hosted a Rocky Shoals Spider Lily Festival and the Celebration of Water Festival at Riverfront Park to highlight the protection needs of this rare flower and water resource.  Users of the greenway, whether casual walkers, native plant enthusiasts or paddlers, can share in the success of the Broad River.