Every December, before fish passage season begins, personnel from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and NOAA Fisheries meet at the Cooper River Rediversion Project to conduct a pre-season inspection of the fish lift to discuss the upcoming passage season, current and future projects, and other issues.
“There is too much work and information for one organization to handle alone,” said Joe Moran, chief of operations. “These partnerships and pre-season inspections are critical to ensuring that the system functions properly so that migrating American shad, striped bass, blueback herring, and other species can pass through the lift safely. Getting the fish through the dam and into Lakes Moultrie and Marion helps ensure their life cycle will continue so that future generations will be able to enjoy them for years to come.”
The fish lift acts as an elevator, lifting the fish up and over the CRRP dam, where approximately 750,000 adult anadromous fish return to spawn every year from February to April.
While the Charleston District monitors and maintains the fish lift year-round, the pre-season inspection is a more in-depth process. The group tours the fish lift operations room, fish passage, and visitor center, while checking the mechanical and electrical systems with an inspection checklist. As they move through each portion of the inspection, they brainstorm and discuss ideas, improvements and completed improvement projects.
“The discussions are where the best ideas for improvements come from,” said Moran. “This year, we spent a lot of time inspecting the newly installed fish lift control panel, which hadn’t been upgraded since it was originally installed in 1985. This upgrade is a direct result of past pre-season inspections, which shows that these meetings are crucial to keeping the fish lift in good shape.”
The updated control panel brings the fish lift operating system into the 21st century and provides the SCDNR operators the capability to manually control all of the various functions of the fish lift. Before the upgrade, the operators had to shut down the entire system if a problem occurred. Now, operators can manually operate each gate and function if necessary to help prevent possible breakage. Other improvements that can be attributed to these inspections include adding vents to several valves to equalize pressure and decrease turbulence in the entrance chamber and installing brail rollers and skid plates to help the ‘lift basket’ glide smoothly up and down.
Each partner agency has its own, unique interest in the operation of the fish lift; the Corps for maintenance, SCDNR for operations during passage season, USFWS for freshwater species preservation, and NOAA for endangered marine species. However, they all share the common goal of keeping the fish lift operational and recognize that by partnering together the fish lift will continually improve, be more efficient, and help maintain and improve populations of these native species.
“Every year, we look forward to these inspections,” said Jim Carter, CRRP operations project manager. “Thanks to these partners and their commitment to the fish lift, we always walk away with new ideas for projects and improvements that can be made in the future.”