Federal and State Fisheries Management
(US Forest Service / SC DNR – Fisheries / NRCS)
Studies funded since 1982:
1985 - USGS (Rod Cherry) Water Temperature and Flow Study ($5250 TU Embrace-A-Stream (EAS) grant)
This study facilitated for the chapter by Dr. Keith Taniguchi, USC Earth Sciences, determined that the lower Saluda River had year round flows and water temperatures suitable for trout. The work by SCE&G in the late 80s and early 90s to stop seepage through the earthen dam and also through the old generators (1930s) however substantially changed the flows, forcing a minimum mandate of 180 cfs from DHEC just to keep the existing dischargers in line with their NPDES permits. So, the study provided an excellent background data base of previous flows in addition to giving the lower Saluda (and the chapter) credibility by proving the lower Saluda a viable trout fishery.
1985-1988 Macro-invertebrate study of the Chattooga River (TU funds and manpower - 10,000+)
This three year study was done in conjunction with the US Forest Service (USFS) and DNRs in SC, NC, and GA along with TU councils in those states. It was funded jointly with those agencies and TU, using both chapter contributions and TU Embrace-A-Stream (EAS) monies. TU also provided volunteer manpower for the twice a year 'bug pickings' at the more than 10 sites at intervals in the 40 mile stretch of river from the NC line to Lake Tugaloo. As SC TU Council Chair, I coordinated this project with Don Eng, SC USFS Supervisor (and Saluda River Chapter charter member!) and the agencies and the two SC TU chapters at the time. It was a galvanizing effort, especially for the Saluda River Chapter, as members rose to the occasion with so many enthusiastic volunteers for the bug pickings despite the long distance. The study based on the bugs found was done by Rocky English of Clemson University and it not only documents the aquatic food base and water quality based on the species; but, also provides a data base of information for comparisons for future impacts (such as the wastewater treatments plants that have since gone on line in the Cashiers, NC area). Also, the project helped to foster two new TU chapters, Rabun Gap and Chattooga River, and also an annual meeting of TU volunteers and resource professionals from the state and federal agencies in the 3 states that became known as the 'Chattooga Coalition'. Still chaired by now retired USFS SE Fisheries Biologist, Monte Seehorn, the Coalition meets each winter to share information and discuss how the Chattooga trout fishery management can be continually improved. The project was filmed by the USFS and the video tape was converted to a dvd by SC DNR and provided to Dan Rankin and the 3 SC TU Chapters in the early 2000s. Reviewing the dvd from time to time is strongly recommended for the chapters because it is a model project that brought together so many different entities from multiple states in a common effort to enhance a nationally significant trout fishery (and federally designated 'Wild and Scenic River').
1988 - USC, School of Public Health (Hank McKellar) Dissolved Oxygen Dynamics Study $6,000 (2,000 each from the Saluda River Chapter, DNR, and DHEC).
This study followed one by McKellar on the oxygen profile of Lake Murray which established his credibility on this issue and proved that the dissolved oxygen levels in the fall months were reaching lethal levels, approaching zero at times. This is the study that eventually turned around DHEC (along with some federal court cases in the 90s) to finally require in the mid 1990s that SCE&G maintain state dissolved oxygen standards after a position that the dam owner did not have to because the D. O. drop was a 'natural phenomena', even though below an 'unnatural' man-built structure. Unfortunately it took over 10 years for the utility to install all the current air vents; and, they are given another 10 years to replace those with more reliable and efficient turbine runners per the FERC approved Settlement Agreement (SA) once their new federal license goes into effect (still pending). That is significant progress, though very drawn out. In the interim before the license goes into effect, we are getting flows similar to the SA guidelines as the utility works out operational issues, and dissolved oxygen is being maintained in the fall with the current air vents which do not work well during high releases. So, high releases in the fall are somewhat of an oxygen 'time bomb' that could potentially wipe out several year classes of trout and other fish depending on the duration.
Partners for Trout
The Saluda River Chapter quickly proved their concern for all trout resources in SC, not just our home water, the lower Saluda. Beginning with the study of the Chattooga in the 1980s, the Chapter responded many times to calls from the SC Council for matching funds from all chapters for upstate habitat improvement projects. Most of these were joint efforts with many entities that banded together under the “Partners for Trout” banner. With technical leadership from SC DNR and NRCS (National Resource Conservation Service – old US Soil Conservation Service) many upstate trout waters were improved, especially those below impoundments changed to bottom draws to prevent thermal (heat) problems lethal to trout in the summer from top draws. Also, the chapter donated $5,000 in addition to funds from the Mountain Bridge Chapter for a joint project to correct the severe and long-standing erosion problems to improve the Middle Saluda River in Jones Gap State Park.
Other conservation efforts with resource agencies:
Fin-clipped trout growth and movement
During the mid 1980s we did an informal study with Gerrit Jobsis when he was a DNR Fisheries Biologist of trout growth in the lower Saluda using fin-clipped trout of the same size stocked at the same time and location. We logged in our catches through the spring and summer, and Gerrit analyzed the over 400 catch data to determine both movement from the stocking location over the year, and also the growth rate which varied from a half inch a month to nearly an inch in some trout. But, he never formally published the study as he felt the amount of data was too little for the number stocked, and the study did not include a full year timeframe (ie, did not factor in the fall mortality in those years). But, it provided a good clue as to the Saluda’s potential…
Jim Bulak, the SCDNR Fisheries Research Director, organized an AFS (American Fisheries Society) water symposium in Columbia in the late 80s. That symposium brought in professionals from all over the country with the lower Saluda River a major topic of discussion. Many of the issues with fisheries and water quality below impoundments were discussed, especially flows and the critical dissolved oxygen levels. The symposium brought national attention to our vision of the lower Saluda as a world class, trophy trout fishery, if managed correctly. Many of the recommendations and solutions offered provided a credible platform for our advocacy that continued on into the FERC relicensing process.
Governor’s Freshwater Wetlands Forum
I served on Governor Campbell's Freshwater Wetlands Forum in the late 80s when it was coordinated by the then SC Water Resources Commission (now a part of DNR). That appointment was a compliment to TU as no other fisheries group was selected and our conservation orientation established since just 1982 was given as the reason for our participation.
We worked closely with the Governor's Riley office to help draft Water Watch manuals and to help pay for the first Field Guides for that program in 1985 (eventually moved to DHEC and then dropped). Mina Harrington as both a Saluda River Board member and also the Sierra Club State Water Quality Director helped to assimilate and finalize the manuals and was a very important advocate for clean water in the lower Saluda. She also, along with Betty Spence, then Director of the SC Wildlife Federation worked with TU and the Palmetto Paddlers to fight against a proposed re-regulation (weir) dam on the Saluda in the early 80s, and against a proposed sewer plant (Loricks's Ferry) located about half way from the dam that would now being pouring out more than 8 million gallons a day into the river. Instead regional lines were proposed and ultimately funded by Lexington Country with a bonded agency to build it and move much of the wastewater down to the Cayce plant on the Congaree. The lines are not completed at this time and further chapter advocacy is needed along with other groups that share our concerns and understand the need to reduce discharges into the lower Saluda.
Lower Saluda River Corridor Plan
I served on the ‘Lower Saluda River Corridor Plan’ task force in the late 80s that created this planning tool with input from citizens, groups, and businesses all with vested interests in the river. This plan along with a major revision termed a ‘Charrette’ done with the River Alliance and a team of urban planners, became the guiding document for the Lower Saluda River Advisory Council as noted above.
And in the mid 1990s DNR (Jobsis) did a Incremental Flow Incremental Methodology (IFIM) study to determine minimum flows needed for the different species in the Saluda based on habitat exposure at the selected transects (cross stream locations). We offered funding for this study, but DNR had the funds needed for it. This was the first and only IFIM done by DNR, with analysis provided by Clemson University. The study results showed that flows of over twice the 180 cfs minimum were needed to prevent de-watering of key areas (like around Oh Brother rapids at the lower power lines below Rivers Edge access). However, the study proved to be ‘informational’ as SCE&G as a private utility was managed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the relicensing process had not yet begun. Drying up riffle areas reduce the insect life (fish food) and also fish habitat, including for spawning and fry needs of fish of all species. Rather than use the DNR study, SCE&G did another IFIM during the relicensing that resulted in the flows in their FERC Settlement Agreement that were actually higher than what the DNR study had recommended (700 cfs during normal rainfall, a 500 target (400 minimum) after two weeks of 'drought (less inflow that outflow in the lake), and over a 1,000 cfs in April to enhance the striper run and spawning, including their thermal refuge runs up the Saluda after spawning in the Congaree).
The chapter worked with DNR on stocking locations over the years, establishing 3 key truck sites - Hopes Ferry, Allied, then Honeywell and now Shaw Industries, and at the entrance to the Quail Hollow Swim Club. The helicopter from SLED was introduced to further distribute the first stockings of trout in December to over a dozen sites selected by Hal. And stockings at the Rivers Edge access road have been made in recent years. The numbers of trout stocked a year has ranged from 20,000 currently to nearly 60,000 in the 90s, and has included some of the 'mitigation' trout (of 12-14") from the Corps provided as part of the agreement when the Russell Dam was built destroying the Hartwell tailrace trout fishery. The growth of those larger trout to over 20 " in 6-8 months by the fall helped DNR to make the decision to bring in larger trout, though in fewer numbers than previously. Also, the months of stockings changed in the 1990s as the severity of the lethal dissolved oxygen levels in the fall became known. It made sense to wait until after the lake 'turned over' each fall, eliminating the layer of anoxic water at the dam intakes, and not stocking past March when the striped bass enter the Congaree and Saluda in large numbers.
Hal Beard as the Fisheries Biologist for the midlands also studied the river substrate and did electro shocking sampling by boat and other studies in the 1990s that were inconclusive as to trout habitat and survival as they were done when we had drought conditions and the minimum flows were very low. He shocked up more warm water fish at that time and the river was not deemed a very good one for trout then as the low flows of as little as 180 cfs and resultant warm temperatures made for poor trout habitat, as did the low levels of dissolved oxygen in the fall months before the air vents were fully installed. This was proof of the change in the flows from elimination of seepage through turbines and the dam itself in the late 1980s and early 1990s that changed the temperature and flow regime as measured in 1985 by the USGS as ideal for trout.
The next proposed study was first suggested during the relicensing by Hal Beard, Regional Fisheries Manager, and Ron Ahle who moved to Fisheries from the now defunct Environmental Programs section. Their suggestion was to study the Saluda trout fishery to determine survival year round (not just in the spring when a SCE&G study was done). With air vents installed for higher dissolved oxygen levels and also higher minimum flows since the last studies in the 1990s, the new study should document the carry-over through the winter and the build up of a multi-year class of trout as have been documented ‘anecdotally’ with angler catches and photos over the past few winters. Ron has been assigned the study and is to start this year, including with trout tagged by TU volunteers this coming fall at the Walhalla Trout Hatchery. The study should be very beneficial in establishing credible science-based proof of the trout carryover annually, and possibly some other important data depending on how Ron structures the study. Bill Clendenin has been leading working out the study details with SC DNR and will need full chapter support as a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) will be required committing the chapter to both manpower and funding levels as agreed on with the agency.
Also, if reproductive trout are ever documented in the Saluda by DNR, the DHEC classification could be upgraded from 'TPGT ' (Trout - Put, Grow and Take) to 'OW' (Outstanding Waters). That will be fought by many entities as it increases wastewater treatment standards and could even change NPDES permits. Chapter position statements and testimonies will be required for any upgrade in the state classification which will first require a definitive study by SC DNR providing scientific proof of a multi-year class of trout, and also proof of reproduction. And if the Saluda were ever to receive an 'OW' classification, then physical habitat would become a major factor in the river's management as was unsuccessfully proposed by Mike Waddell and I during the FERC relicensing meetings based on many successes we cited on the White River in Arkansas, an even larger tailrace.
Relationship with DNR
The SC TU Council is working out ways to better communicate with DNR staff, including holding recent council meetings at DNR fishery facilities, such as the Walhalla Trout Hatchery and the Campbell Fish Hatchery. Continued cooperative efforts are needed, including jointly supported protective regulations which Section 13 of the new Fisheries Laws codification will allow DNR Fisheries to initiate in an expedited legislative process. The new process will still involve legislative approval; but, will require immediate actions by the House and Senate, not allowing tabling of pending legislation in committees as can be done now.