Drought-like conditions impact Lake Murray levels

Public Affairs
(800) 562 9308

May 25, 2006, Columbia, SC
– With rainfall in the Midlands nearly 49 percent below normal, drought-like conditions in South Carolina are on full display at Lake Murray. Levels there are well below average for this time of year due to the lack of rainfall across the Saluda River basin that feeds into the lake.

According to South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, rainfall for the Midlands area since Jan.1 is 9.25 inches. That is 8.8 inches below the average. Although recent rains have postponed a declaration of a drought by the State Drought Response Committee, it has done little to replenish the watershed that feeds Lake Murray.

“That is a staggering amount of water when multiplied over the entire Saluda River watershed,” said Jim Landreth, vice president of Fossil and Hydro Operations for SCE&G. “Had we experienced normal rainfall in South Carolina this year, Lake Murray would have been at its normal summer level by now.”

Low lake levels have prompted numerous calls to SCE&G’s Call Center from the community wanting answers to why the lake is down and what the company is doing to prevent it from rising.

“Although many would like to believe otherwise, the sole reason the lake level is not at its normal level is simply the lack of rain. It serves us no benefit to keep the lake where it is,” said Landreth. “Our decision to generate power from Saluda is generally based on operational criteria and not financial.”

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SCE&G has a reserve power sharing agreement with several neighboring utilities, such as Duke Power and Progress Energy, to help maintain grid stability in times of crisis. As part of the agreement, each member utility agrees to keep in reserve a proportionate share of generating capacity. These reserves, for which Saluda Hydroelectric Plant is almost always designated, remain on standby for the purpose of generating electricity should any of the member utilities lose a large power plant, as was the case this past weekend when another member utility lost the use of two large plants.

Given the normal dispatch protocol to use Saluda Hydro for reserves, the decision to generate electricity from the plant is not based on economics. The plant must be available at a moment’s notice to dispatch electricity in the event of an emergency. When Saluda Hydro is used in emergency cases as outlined above, it is usually for a very short amount of time and there is virtually no impact to lake levels.

The rare occasions that Saluda is operated for purposes other than reserve capacity include scheduled releases for such events as Canoeing for Kids and training for the Columbia Fire Department’s swift water rescue team. Water is also released when requested from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources or by SCE&G for environmental studies. In all of these cases, impact to lake levels is minimal.

“We understand that low lake levels make no one happy, including us,” said Landreth. “Just like everyone else in the region, we at SCE&G are hoping for rain.”

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In January 2006, SCE&G began maintenance work on the dam to repair riprap, per the instruction by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). This maintenance was not done earlier for logistical reasons – the company needed access to Highway 6 on the dam, and that could not be done until the two new lanes were completed by the South Carolina Department of Transportation. When work was completed Feb. 19, SCE&G began to let the water rise. Unfortunately, lack of rain has not allowed it to obtain normal levels.

Since the completion of the work, Saluda Hydroelectric Plant has run above minimum flows on only six occasions – two for emergency reserve purposes and four scheduled releases. On average, Saluda is operated between eight and ten times each year for emergency reserve reasons.

Saluda Hydroelectric Plant Usage since Feb. 19



Impact on Lake Murray Level*

March 7

Unscheduled – Emergency Reserve

No change

April 25

Scheduled – Environmental Study for SCE&G and SCDNR

0.24 inches

April 29

Scheduled – Duck Derby for Boys and Girls Club of Columbia

0.12 inches

May 13

Scheduled – Canoeing for Kids

2.52 inches

May 20

Unscheduled – Emergency Reserve

No change

May 23

Scheduled – Environmental Study for SCDNR

No change

Total Impact

2.88 inches

* Lake level data is provided by the United States Geological Survey (USGS).