A popular waterway with shores in Lancaster County will drop lower than many visitors and homeowners have likely ever seen it, and stay at that level for more than a year.
Duke Energy announced Thursday the company will drop Lake Wateree to six or seven feet below its full pond level beginning in November. The draw-down will allow work on Wateree Dam that should help buffer the area and the Catawba River system from low to moderate level flood risks. Construction should last 14 to 16 months.
It has been decades since Wateree was as consistently low as it will be. Lake users are asked to be mindful of new water levels during boating or when storing boats. Duke also asks boaters to maintain a safe distance from the work site during construction.
Lake Wateree is almost 14,000 acres with 181 miles of shoreline, spread across Lancaster, Kershaw and Fairfield counties. Wateree was built in 1920 for the operation of a hydroelectric station. It’s the second largest lake in the 11-reservoir Catawba system, and the largest in South Carolina. At full pond, it’s more than 225 feet above sea level.
Lake Wateree also is a popular recreation destination. Numerous bass and catfish tournaments are held there, and on Lake Wylie. Lake Wateree has a state recreation area and 14 access points, including eight public boat launches operated by Duke or the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
Along with its location partially in Lancaster County, Wateree isn’t far south of Great Falls in Chester County.
Work on the Wateree Dam involves the installation of new spillway gates. The change will allow an extra 75,000 gallons of water per second to flow from the dam when needed. The upgrade is part of a federal relicensing plan signed between Duke and public stakeholders throughout the Catawba basin in 2006. The improvement cost was listed then at $5.71 million.
The Catawba system starts at headwaters of Lake James in North Carolina. It runs through the massive Lake Norman, Mountain Island Lake where Charlotte gets its drinking water, and then Lake Wylie, where it crosses from North Carolina into South Carolina. The most downstream reservoir in the chain with sloping topography, Wateree gets more frequent and longer flooding than other Catawba lakes.
Duke maintains the Catawba River and manages its lakes for hydroelectric production. Duke has a series of drought and flood prevention protocols that control water flow to keep the entire system as close to target lake elevations as possible. An improvement to spillways in one area, in part, can benefit potential flooding throughout the basin.
Duke also is one of the key agencies that has to approve construction projects on reservoirs in the basin, from dock construction to dredging. All the various approvals needed, depending on the project, can take months to secure. Duke recommends that anyone who needs to do dock or cove work along their property should apply now to take advantage of the lower water levels.