A system of hydroelectric dams, completed in 1942, radically transformed South Carolina’s Santee River Basin — the second largest river basin on the East Coast.
Forming two large manmade lakes, Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie, the project inundated hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands and blocked natural migration routes for aquatic life. Many migratory fish species declined dramatically, and some were all but wiped out.
A federal wildlife agency has identified ways that Santee Cooper (the state-owned utility in charge of the dams) can restore fish passages and adjust water flows to rehydrate bottomland swamps and other wetlands. Instead, the power provider is digging in its heels and seeking federal licensing to continue operating the system as it has for decades. The result will be another half-century of environmental degradation.