ST. STEPHEN, SC (WCSC) - Wounded Warriors spent the day fishing and relaxing at the hydro-power plant in St. Stephen. It seems like an odd place to fish, but it's actually a great spot this time of year.
That's because thousands of fish are being moved over the dam, and into the water on the other side thanks to a"fish lift".
"It takes the flow from the Cooper River and puts some of it back into the Santee River to keep silt out of the Charleston Harbor," Lt. Col. John Litz, Commander for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Charleston District, said."It also cuts down on how much we have to dredge in the Charleston Harbor to keep the navigation channel open."
But in order to get past the dam, a fish lift was created when the facility was built in 1985.
"It's a one of a kind facility in the Southeastern United States," Joe Moran, a Fishery Biologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Charleston District, said."We pass more fish than any other passage facility on the Atlantic Coast, to our knowledge."
The lift works in a four step process: The fish are attracted to the downstream current at the entrance gate at the bottom of the dam. They swim through the channel into another gated area where then a crowder pushes them towards a lock chamber. There they swim into a basket as the water level rises, and forces them to swim up toward the lake level. The fish then swim past viewing windows and out into Lake Moultrie.
"It really is one of nature's wonders to see fish move that have spent five years in the ocean, to come back and complete their life cycle," Moran said.
"[I've] Never been to a facility like this before, so [I've]been seeing the ins and outs," Matthew Witkowski, a wounded veteran apart of the Wounded Warrior Project, said."I heard they've got a window where you can see the fish going up and down, and the rise so that would be pretty neat to see."
The lift process runs from sunup to sundown every day during the spring season. It's expected to wrap up on May 1.
Since the opening of the fish lift over 16-million fish have passed through. The facility is open to the public seven days a week.
The power from the dam can run up to 40,000 homes in the Santee Cooper service area. The plant also saves taxpayers up to 18-million-dollars a year in dredging costs for Charleston Harbor.