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Breakfast Recap: History of the Lake Murray Dam

June 16, 2021 | Posted By: Connor Watkins

With 650 miles of shoreline, Lake Murray is an important resource for the community that provides not only some of the best fishing spots and boat recreation, but also hydroelectricity. At this month’s breakfast, sponsored by Colonial Life, Dominion Energy South Carolina Manager of Lake Management Billy Chastain gave interesting details about the history of the dam.

Chastain also gave a briefing on a few of the places where the management team has grown in managing such a large resource. With not much to do during the COVID year people flocked to the lake for recreation, fishing and the building of docks, which also created an overwhelming amount of trash to be removed from recreation sites. Building permits were up from 420 in 2019 to 1,000 in 2020. And with extra skiers on the lake, there were several complaints of tall grass. Although 3,000 grass carp are added to the lake annually for weed control, this environment is perfect for fish habitation resulting in a desire to use the lake for national fishing tournaments.

The Lake Murray Dam stands tall in front of the Saluda Hydroelectric Plant, originally constructed from 1927 through 1930. Railroad tracks were built to bring construction supplies. A rock quarry was opened on site as granite needed for the project was available on the back of property, saving money on freight. Four turbine-generator units were built and are still used today with a fifth unit added in 1970. In 1958, McMeekin Station was built; a once coal burning plant that has now been converted to natural gas.

The towers on Lake Murray are 223 feet tall, providing water intake for the five generators. When the towers were built, the largest tower included a spillway on the bottom to allow the Saluda River to continue to flow. The spillway was sealed when construction was completed and the lake was filled with water. Plans to revamp the wooden structures around the towers will begin in the next 12 to 18 months.

Four emergency spillway gates and a new river channel were built originally with two more added in 1946 to allow 185,000 cubic feet of water to be expelled from the lake. These gates, which had not been used since 1969 (excluding yearly safety inspections), were opened during the historic flood of 2015.

As construction ended in 1930 the lake was named after the project engineer, William Murray. The lake was used as a practice field for the B-25 Bombers for a number of years in the 1940s that resulted in the nicknaming of Bomb Island. Several planes had crashed in the lake with the last plane recovered in 2005. Between 2002 and 2005, the award-winning dam was rebuilt with two sets of lanes and a larger retaining wall.

Register for the next Business Over Breakfast on Tuesday, July 13 at 7:30 a.m. at RADIUS Church where Duane Parrish, director for the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism, will give the keynote address. Tickets are $10 and must be purchased in advance.

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