Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
Hydropower is considered a renewable source of energy and widely used
throughout the United States and the world. Hydropower projects usually consist
of damming a river, creating a reservoir or lake. Water flowing through
generators in the dam create electricity. Dams can also be used for water supply
and flood control. Although producing hydroelectricity does not emit any
greenhouse gas emissions, the damming of rivers can cause detrimental affects to
our streams and rivers.
Rivers originate at their headwaters which usually consist of tiny mountain
streams that flow downstream getting larger as more tributary streams connect to
the main channel. In South Carolina streams and rivers eventually flow from the
Piedmont area through the coastal plain and into the ocean. Dams impede this
flow of water which creates an upstream impoundment or lake. Dams fragment river
systems causing physical and ecological separation of habitats. They impact
river systems by altering flows, sediment movements, water chemistry, and
aquatic and upland habitat. They affect species life cycles by restricting
upstream and downstream movements of migratory species, especially fish. Fish
can also be harmed or killed when entrained in turbine intakes or injured by
The East coast contains several species of fish known as diadromous fishes
which are fishes that must move between fresh and saltwater environments to
fulfill a portion of their life cycle. South Carolina is home to the American
shad, hickory shad, blueback herring, striped bass, American eel, Atlantic
sturgeon and shortnose sturgeon which is a federally endangered species.
Historically, these species were abundant and supported large commercial
fisheries but in the last century their populations have significantly declined.
Dams have attributed to this decline because they block species from moving up
river to their natal spawning grounds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in
concert with other natural resource agencies is working to pass fish beyond dams
to their natal spawning grounds in an effort to rebuild and restore their
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or FERC is the governmental agency
responsible under the Federal Power Act for licensing non-federal hydropower
projects. Hydropower projects are generally licensed for 30 to 50 years. Many of
the license terms for dams in South Carolina and in the southeast have or are
about to expire and are preparing to apply to the FERC for a new license. Under
the Federal Power Act the USFWS has special authorities that enable us to
recommend mitigative measures for the continuing adverse impacts from the
project, and prescribe fishways at dams. Fishways are facilities that can be
built at dams to safely pass fish upstream and downstream of the dam.
Several utilities in North and South Carolina are undergoing project
relicensing and each are within some phase of the process. Projects the
Charleston ES Office is actively participating in include the Santee-Cooper
Hydropower Project on the Santee and Cooper Rivers, the Augusta Canal Hydropower
Project on the Savannah River, the Duke Energy Hydropower Project on the Catawba
and Wateree Rivers, the Columbia Hydropower Project on the Broad River, the
Saluda Hydropower Project on the Saluda River and the Progress Energy Hydropower
Project on the Pee Dee River.
Fisheries Restoration Plan
The Santee River Basin is located along the South Atlantic coast and consists of the Santee, the Congaree, the Broad, the Saluda, and the Catawba-Wateree sub-basins. The Santee River Basin once supported large populations of American shad, blueback herring, striped bass, shortnose sturgeon, Atlantic sturgeon and American eel. In 2008 the USFWS, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Resources, and two hydroelectric utilities, South Carolina Electric and Gas, and Duke Energy Carolinas LLC signed the Santee River Basin Accord. This 10-year agreement is a restoration plan to rebuild populations of diadromous fish throughout the Santee River Basin, through hatchery-based fry introductions, scientific studies and monitoring, and fish passage facilities. Fish passage facilities will provide access of diadromous fish to former spawning and maturation habitats that have been blocked by the construction of dams.