The public utility that owns Lake Murray will draw the lake down by eight feet this winter to improve water quality in the lake, and fisheries biologists and local fishermen say it should also improve fishing.
Weather permitting, the lake will be lowered to the 350-foot elevation around Dec. 1. That level will be maintained until Jan. 1, 2014, after which it will be allowed to rise back to the normal-pool level of 358 feet.
In years past, periodic drawdowns to similar levels were conducted that allowed rain to “scour” shallow coves, greatly benefiting water quality. The last draw-down was in 2006 so improvements could be made to Lake Murray Dam..
“Our objective is to benefit the long-term water quality of Lake Murray,” said Jim Landreth, vice president of South Carolina Electric & Gas’ Fossil and Hydro Plant Operations. “This method has proven effective in the past, but Mother Nature has not allowed us this type of drawdown for a while. The time has come for us to do it again.
“An added benefit to the drawdown is that this will give lake residents and businesses roughly a month at the lower level to make dock repairs and shoreline improvements that are permitted by SCE&G’s Lake Murray Shoreline Management Plan,” Landreth said. “We encourage them to start planning now.”
The drawdown may also benefit certain fish species, according to fisheries biologist Hal Beard of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
“From a fisheries-management standpoint, there is evidence that a winter drawdown of a reservoir may benefit certain shoreline-spawning species, such as crappie, once the reservoir returns to full pool in the spring,” he said.
The drawdown will be especially beneficial to striped bass, according Richy Brensinger, president of the Midlands Striper Club, which participated in the recent federal re-licensing process for the 83-year-old hydro-power dam. Brensinger said one of the end effects of the drawdown will be to improve oxygen levels in the lake, critical for striped bass, which get crowded into small layers of oxygenated water in the lake during the summer. Sometimes, when the fish get too crowded, they exhaust the oxygen in the water, which can cause a die-off of stripers.
“We've been advocates of trying to reduce nutrient levels in the lake. The drawdown will help kill off weeds and other growth along the shore, and when the lake is brought back up in January there will be less nutrients and oxygen levels should be higher,” he said. “From what I have been reading, they plan on doing this every two years, and that would be a definite help with the oxygen levels.”
The drawdown will also be beneficial to largemouth bass, said former guide and local tournament angler Doug Lown of Newberry.
“For years, the lake was drawn down regularly to 348 or 350 feet, which kept the shallow areas clean. Silt was not allowed to accumulate, which is what is happening now,” Lown said.
Some shallow coves, he said, are silted in and have undesirable plant growth on the bottom, which makes them unusable for bass and unfishable for the anglers. Drawing the lake down, he said, will pull the silt out of those coves and expose the unwanted plants to sunlight, providing a cleaner environment for the fish when the lake refills early next year. It should also change winter fishing this year.
“I used to never fish docks in the fall, but with the water staying higher in recent years, the fish stayed shallow in the winter months, and you could catch them around docks,” Lown said. “But if they are pulling the water down, I don't think we will see the fish staying shallow this November, December and January, like they have the last few years. They will probably relate more to the deeper drops, and secondary points close to deep water.”