History of the St. Stephen Fish Lift
- Prehistoric People
Artifacts found on site indicate that man has inhabited the area known as St. Stephen since the Early Archaic period, at least 10,000 years ago. As the climate warmed, native people hunted deer and small game. They also used weirs (small dam-like structures that cause water to pool behind them), nets and other devices to take advantage of the abundant fishery resources available.
1780 to 1880
- The Santee Canal
In 1786, the South Carolina General Assembly granted a charter to construct the Santee Canal, which linked the Santee River to the Cooper River near Charleston. The canal provided a trade waterway via the Congaree River that allowed goods from the plantations of Central Carolina to be delivered to Charleston on barges drawn by horses or mules. Engineer Colonel John Christian Senf, the South Carolina State Engineer, led the construction of the Santee Canal project. President Thomas Jefferson offered Colonel Senf the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Revolutionary Army, but Colonel Senf declined the appointment as it was a lower rank. The Santee Canal opened in 1800, but was soon outdated with the development of the railroad system. Abandoned in the late 1800s, much of the original canal today is flooded under Lake Moultrie.
1934 to 1942
- Construction of the Wilson Dam (Santee River) & Pinopolis
Dam (Cooper River)
In 1934, the South Carolina General Assembly authorized the South Carolina Public Service Authority (later known as Santee Cooper) to provide hydroelectricity for thousands of rural Lowcountry South Carolinians. Construction on the Santee Cooper Project began in May 1939 with the first electricity delivered to a Charleston business involved in the war effort in 1942.
Over 42 miles of dams and dikes were built. Lakes Marion and Moultrie were formed from the damming of the Santee River. At the time of construction, it was the most extensive land clearing project in history at approximately 175,000 acres, with most of the clearing being done by hand. Churches and schools were moved; communities were kept together as much as possible; and over 6,000 graves were reinterred. 901 families relocated by having their houses physically moved, taken down and reassembled, or new housing constructed. With a lift of 75 feet from the Tailrace Canal to Lake Moultrie, the Pinopolis Dam was the highest single lift lock (which allowed boat traffic to pass from the river to Lake Moultrie and back) in the world!
1950 to 1970
- Charleston Harbor Shoaling
While the lock worked well allowing boat traffic to move from the Cooper River to Lake Moultrie and fish to pass above the new dam, an unintended consequence of the Santee Cooper Project arose as a result of diversion. The Cooper River, previously a small tidal creek terminating at the Charleston Harbor, was now carrying the combined flows and sediments of the Cooper and the much larger Santee River. The increased flow created shoaling problems in the harbor that interfered with the United States Navy and commercial shipping traffic. Annual dredging by the United States Army Corps of Engineers was re-quired to protect navigation and commercial interests, which cost millions of dollars per year. Dredging costs dramatically increased and sites to deposit the removed sediments filled up quickly.
- Cooper River Rediversion Project Completed
To address shoaling problems in the Charleston Harbor and associated annual dredging costs, the United States Congress authorized construction of the 2,500 acre Cooper River Rediversion Project at St. Stephen by the United States Army Corps of Engineers in 1978.
The Cooper River Rediversion Project rediverts approximately 90% of the Santee River flow back into the Santee and saves approximately $14 to $18 million in annual dredging costs. When water flows through the Cooper River Rediversion Project, power generation capacity is lost at the Pinopolis Dam. The Rediversion Project includes three hydroelectric turbines to compensate for that loss. Authorization also included construction of the fish passage facility, to allow upstream migrating fish to pass beyond the new dam into the lake system and beyond.
- St. Stephen Fish Lift Completed
To help anadromous fish species complete their spawning migrations, the United States Army Corps of Engineers partnered with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service to design the St. Stephen Fish Lift.
The facility passes approximately 400,000 American shad, 350,000 blueback herring, and numerous striped bass, catfish, panfish and other aquatic species into Lakes Marion and Moul-trie annually. The St. Stephen Fish Lift passes more American shad and blueback herring than any other passage structure on the Atlantic Coast. Often called "the most important fish passage facility on the East Coast" by a National Oceanic and At-mospheric Administration fisheries expert, this fish lift is operated by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources under a long-term contract with the United States Army Corps of Engineers.
187,000 blueback herring passed through the St. Stephen Fish Lift during its first year of operation.
- Jack D. Bayless Hatchery Opens
Due to the Rediversion Project, the state striped bass hatchery was moved from the banks of the Cooper River in Moncks Corner to St. Stephen, right below the fish lift, in anticipation of the reduction of broodfish (adult fish ready to reproduce or spawn) available at the previous location. Fisheries staff travel the state's rivers to collect brood striped bass and American shad using specially outfitted fish sampling boats called electrofishing boats. Electrofishing boats are equipped with a generator that produces electricity in the water that temporarily stuns fish allowing for easier capture. Captured broodfish are transported back to the hatchery to spawn. The new location, named after Jack Bayless who refined many of the striped bass spawning techniques, raises approximately 12 million striped and hybrid bass larvae and two to four million American shad larvae annually. Fish are stocked in South Carolina rivers to help augment the natural populations and in reservoirs to provide an excellent fishing opportunity.
10,000 American shad found their way to the Rediversion Canal and were counted as they passed through the fish lift.
- Use of Video to Count Fish Passage
Prior to 1993, fish counts were made using a Bendix hydroacoustic system. Now, each lift cycle is video recorded and can be reviewed in slow motion, allowing greater count accuracy. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources staff identify and count each fish passed through the lift and use collected data to monitor trends in fish passage and abundance. Volume of water discharged through St. Stephen's hydroelectric plant, water temperature and other factors can affect fish passage. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Biologists evaluate fish passage in relation to these factors to deter-mine the relative "strength" of the Santee River anadromous fish run.
By observing and documenting fish passage annually, biologists have long-term data that indicates the St. Stephen Fish Lift as one of the most effective passage facilities for American shad and blueback herring on the Atlantic coast. This same information is also used to demonstrate a "sustainable shad run" and help maintain South Carolina's recreational and commercial fishery for both of these species.
- Fish Lift Modifications
When St. Stephen's three turbines are operating simultaneously to produce electricity, a large amount of turbulence is created in the Tailrace Canal. The resulting downstream flow was beneficial to attract migrating fish to the fish lift, but the turbulence was impacting the ability of the fish to locate the fish lift entrance. In an effort to reduce turbulence in the fish lift entry, engineers designed and installed precast concrete walls (wingwalls) and entry gates called “weirs.” These additions created a more natural river flow that is attractive to migrating fish. If the turbines are operating during your visit, look and compare how smooth the water is in the fish lift entry area versus the Tailrace Canal.
- Auxiliary Attraction Flow
Coupled with the addition of the wingwall installation in 1994, the attraction flow allowed for a larger volume of attraction flow which was vital to guide fish into the fish lift entrance channels. The modifications also provided a downstream by-pass structure, allowing juveniles and smaller fish to pass downstream of St. Stephen without having to travel through the hydroelectric turbines of the dam.
- Eel Ramps Added
With a coast-wide decline of American eels and their potential listing as an endangered species, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources' biologists designed a study to determine whether eels were using the fish lift for passage. During the spring and early summer, elvers (a pigmented miniature eel) migrate into freshwater to grow until they reach sexual maturity at approximately 20 years of age. As part of the study, two eel ramps were mounted on the side of the fish lift, each providing a small attraction flow.
These simple eel ramps are effective in capturing elvers so biologists and technicians can collect data, measure the eels, and release them upstream of the dam. As of 2012, those ramps are still effective and nearly 27,500 elvers have been captured and released. Currently, South Carolina (in the Cooper River) and Maine are the only states along the eastern seaboard that allow the commercial harvest of glass eels.
2009 to 2012
- Fish Lift Repairs & Modifications
Major repairs and modifications to the exit chamber, including support beams for the catwalk, all floor and wall grating, and a new sampling basket, were completed in 2009. The lift chamber (brail) basket and the roof over the fish lift were also replaced.
In 2011, the fish lift suffered a catastrophic failure of the hydraulic system, which caused the loss of most of the passage season. The United States Army Corps of Engineers, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service collaborated to determine a plan of action for critical repairs. In 2012, the United States Army Corps of Engineers expended nearly $2 million to completely replace the hydraulic system, crowder gates and diffusion grating, and repair and refurbish several other gates. In addition, a comprehensive maintenance schedule was developed and implemented.
- Visitor Experience Improvements
One of St. Stephen's legacies is providing outstanding educational opportunities for the next generation of conservation-minded citizens. The Viewing Room received a complete makeover – another excellent collaboration between the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Two new videos were produced, a flat screen monitor and video player were added, displays were developed and installed, and new paint and flooring completed the transformation. In addition, visitors may now enter the Bayless Hatchery gates to visit the Fish Lift Viewing Room without prior scheduling of a guided tour.