The stretch of the Broad River through Columbia is lower this week than during a bone-dry drought summer, with almost all flow cut off to allow for repair of a valve in the Columbia Canal diversion dam.
Lockhart Power, which operates the hydropower station at the south end of the canal, had planned to make the repairs two weeks ago, but heavy rains forced a two-week delay. The work is scheduled to be completed by the weekend.
In the meantime, the Broad from the diversion dam to its confluence with the Saluda River looks like it hasn’t in years, if not decades. Congaree Riverkeeper Bill Stangler said it’s the worst that stretch of river has looked in the nine years he’s been paying close attention to it.
Stangler said tiny insects called macroinvertebrates are scurrying across the rocks looking for water, and fish are stranded in some pools.
Ironically, the valve being repaired is in a notch in the diversion dam built to allow a minimum flow downstream to support wildlife when the river is especially low.
Below the diversion dam early Wednesday, green algae-coated portions of rocks that almost always are under water were exposed to the sun. A sure-footed person with a metal detector could rock-hop across the river and find plenty of fishing gear, lost keys and useless cell phones.
Lockhart planned for the work to take three to four days. Dam operators upstream on the Broad are holding back water to make it easier to lower the water level behind the diversion dam, and almost all water coming downstream is being diverted into the Columbia Canal.
Some water is seeping around the west edge of the diversion dam and some flows through the fish ladder built to allow fish to swim upstream past the dam. Wednesday morning, some water also was flowing through the notch in the dam where the repairs are being done. But all of that water combined wasn’t enough to prevent the river from becoming a nearly stagnant puddle a mile downstream.