SCE&G, the City of Columbia, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and National Marine Fisheries Service, and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources dedicated a new $5.5 million fish passage facility, or fishway, on the Broad River Riverfront Park off of Broad River Rd. in Columbia on July 13.
The Columbia Canal, which was begun in 1819 by the State of South Carolina to provide barge traffic, now provides electricity for South Carolina Electric and Gas (SCE&G). Flows from the Broad River are diverted into the three-mile long canal, where they power three generators that produce a total of about 11 megawatts. The Canal diverts up to 6,000 cfs (cubic feet per second) of water from the main river channel.
In 2002, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued the current operating license for the hydroproject. According to S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) FERC coordinator Dick Christie, the new license required, among other things, that fish passage be provided. The Columbia Dam has blocked the migrations of several commercially important fish species from reaching their historic spawning grounds, and the fishway will provide safe and effective upstream and downstream passage of migratory fish such as American shad and blueback herring. Other species that will benefit from the project include hickory shad, robust redhorse, shortnose sturgeon and American eel.
"We have an excellent opportunity to restore a number of species to the Broad River basin," said Press Brownell with the National Marine Fisheries Service. "Our initial target species for passage include American shad, blueback herring and American eel. We also hope to see some sturgeon passing to their historical spawning areas upstream." Shad and herring migrate from the Santee to the North Atlantic Ocean, where they are important food for many ocean species like tunas, mackerel, and red drum.
The passage facility is a vertical slot ladder. A fish ladder is a structure designed to allow fish the opportunity to migrate upstream and continue their function as part of the river ecosystem. A fish ladder enables fish to pass around a barrier by swimming up a series of relatively low steps into the waters on the other side. The velocity of water falling over the steps has to be high enough to attract the fish to the ladder, but it cannot be so great as to wash fish back downstream or to exhaust them to the point where they cannot continue their journey upriver.
"This fish passage facility will be the first non-federal passage facility in South Carolina," said Tim Miller, project leader with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service, "This fishway will provide diadromous fish access to approximately 24 miles of the Broad River and tributaries, totaling 1,856 surface acres of habitat which has been blocked for over 180 years."