No Darn Dam

There are no natural lakes in the South Carolina piedmont. Any body of water we’d call a pond or a lake or a reservoir is the result of engineering and political process. In the region where we live, nature makes rivers, but it takes money and government permits to make a lake.

I prefer rivers to lakes. I understand that it’s necessary to impound water for drinking purposes, but the killing of a natural river to make a large lake should be a last resort. It should be debated long and hard. The process should be difficult, and all the shareholders should always be at the table. All the voices should be heard.

Thank goodness, when these human-engineered impoundments get old they silt in and become rivers again. Their expensive dams become waterfalls. Moving water doesn’t like an impoundment. It fills it in and returns the lake bed to river channel. A lake filled in with sediment always make you wonder: why did we dam this river in the first place?

In the wee hours this morning good news arrived in the form of an e-mail news release: “The Tyger River Dam Proposal by Union County is Dead!”

Let me refresh your memory if you’ve forgotten about this important issue: In 2004 Union County and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers entered into an agreement through the Planning Assistance to States program to create a feasibility study for the potential creation of “Patriots Lake,” a 5,000 acre reservoir on private and public land along the Tyger River.

Most of the local and state environmental groups were not happy about the plans. The Sierra Club, Audubon, S.C. Wildlife Federation, and the Native Plant Society all lined up in opposition and promised stands against the lake. It would inundate 1,600 acres of freshwater wetlands and destroy waterfowl habitat and the nesting grounds for many species of birds. All this for a real estate pipe dream and a badly conceived plan to dam one of the most beautiful and ecologically important piedmont rivers.

These groups all pointed out that plans to build the lake would lead to a national outcry if public lands were to be converted to benefit a few private interests. I was opposed from the beginning as well, and said so in several columns. I believe in public land, and as I see it, Union County wants to create a lake on land that I own, land in the stewardship of the U.S. Forest Service. A decision like that should be discussed not only in Union County but in Spartanburg, Florida, Oregon, and Vermont.

So, since 2004 we’ve all been waiting for the report, with no word from the feds.

Recently it became clear that the report’s been finished since May of 2007, but Union County and federal government have refused to release it because the news is bad for the developers of the lake. Though it has still not been released, Dennis Chamberlain, attorney for the Sierra Club was provided a copy of the report for his review. After reading it Chamberlain reports, “The dam project is dead and should be put to rest.” The Corps concludes the project would be situated over two earthquake faults, and the price tag of at least $187 million is not economically justified.

This is good news for the Upcountry of South Carolina and for those who love public land. Patriots Lake was not the best use of land for economic development. It would take a living river and drown it under an unnecessary impoundment.

So we still have to wait for the feds to officially release the actual report, but at least the news is good this morning: ding dong the dam is dead.

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