Native Americans inhabited the area for thousands of years, and built fish traps beside many villages on the Congaree, Saluda, Broad, and Catawba-Wateree Rivers.  In the late 1600’s-1700’s, European colonists used fish traps for huge fisheries in the upper Santee Basin.  In the late 1700’s and 1800’s, many mill dams were built for grinding corn, which blocked migrating fish.  Larger dams were built for textile mills in the mid- to late-1800’s.  In 1942, the Santee River was dammed to provide electricity to rural residents and flood control for the Santee Basin.  The resulting flow into the Cooper River and sediment buildup in Charleston Harbor both increased dramatically.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, and the South Carolina Wildlife Commission coordinated with the Corps and the South Carolina Public Service Authority (Santee Cooper) in the late 1940’s-1950’s to support upstream passage of river herring at the Pinopolis Lock, to provide food sources for the landlocked striped bass in Lakes Moultrie and Marion. 

The Corps proposed the CRRP in the early 1970’s to reduce sedimentation and dredging costs in Charleston Harbor.  Construction began in 1978 and was completed in March 1985.  The project saves taxpayers $36 million per year in dredging costs in Charleston Harbor, while benefitting shipping, industrial development, hydropower, and fish and wildlife.

The St. Stephen fish lock was designed specifically for American shad and blueback herring, but striped bass, catfish, and other species also pass through it.  Major renovations in 2012 and 2013 will ensure passage of these important species for decades to come.


The CRRP’s three generators are operated remotely by Santee Cooper, and can provide the energy needed for about 40,000 homes.  The St. Stephen powerhouse staff works hard to ensure the generators are ready to provide electricity to South Carolina residents 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Hydroelectric power is produced when water enters the turbines through gates located about 70 feet below the surface of the intake canal.  The force of the rushing water rotates the turbines, which are connected to electric generators.  The electrical current is transmitted to the Santee Cooper power grid and on to homes and businesses.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has built 75 power plants all across the United States that generate more than 20 million kilowatts of power, which is roughly 30% of the nation’s hydroelectric generation.  That is enough electricity to power every household in South Carolina…. and North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana!

Fish Passage

The St. Stephen fish lock has been called “one of the most important fish passage facilities on the East Coast of the United States” by a NOAA Fisheries expert.  American shad and blueback herring spawned in the Santee Cooper system are regularly captured in Canada’s Bay of Fundy where they spend their juvenile life before returning, almost five years later as adults! 

St. Stephen passes 750,000 fish per year on average, and has passed more than nine million blueback herring and more than six million American shad since 1988.  Santee Cooper, SCDNR, USFWS, NOAA, and the Corps have worked together to improve fish passage in the Santee Cooper system by funding fishlift maintenance and structural modifications, biological studies, and invasive plant control programs.  In 2013, the Corps spent approximately $2 million to replace the crowder gates and grating on the fish lock, the hydraulic and HVAC systems, install new safety features, and renovate the visitor viewing room.

The fish lock is operated by SCDNR during the spawning season, which is usually from February 1 through May 15, depending on flows and water temperature.  Underwater viewing windows attract thousands of visitors each spring to observe the annual fish migration. 


The Corps, Santee Cooper , the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources , the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and NOAA Fisheries are committed to long-term management of the many benefits provided by the CRRP and the important St. Stephen fish lock, which passes more anadromous fish than any other facility on the Atlantic Coast.

Santee Cooper remotely operates the turbines to provide electricity.  SCDNR operates the fish lock and is active in operational planning, while the USFWS and NOAA provide substantive input on improvements.  The partners are working to ensure the Santee and Cooper River populations of migratory fish species increase in size, while maintaining the project’s operational integrity.

These partnerships ensure the CRRP will best meet the needs of the citizens of South Carolina and our natural resources, and provide value to the nation.


The Corps is committed to preserving and managing natural resources and providing educational and recreational opportunities for visitors of all ages.  Early spring visitors can see some of the 750,000 fish that migrate through our fish lock every year – a true natural wonder.

The SCDNR’s Bayless Hatchery produces 20-25 million striped bass each year that are stocked across South Carolina.  Hatchery-grown American shad are also stocked in the headwaters of the Santee Cooper system with hopes of them returning to those areas in future years to spawn.  Fishing for shad, large catfish, and striped bass is excellent, while boating is allowed in marked areas of the tailrace canal below the railroad bridge.

More than 80% of project lands are designated as a South Carolina Wildlife Management Area.  American bald eagles, ospreys, cormorants, and great blue herons are common sights.  With an abundance of quail and doves on project land, hunting is allowed for these fowl.  However, hunting is by permit only and is subject to restricted areas, seasons, and license requirements.

St. Stephen ESRI StoryMap

We're proud to present an interactive module to show you more information about the St. Stephen Powerhouse and Cooper River Rediversion Project. This module is a StoryMap from ESRI, where you'll find information, videos, maps, photos and more about the project. Take time to explore the module and let us know when you want to visit the fish lift! Click on the module below to launch!

What's New

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 CRRP "Fish Cam"

The Charleston District and the SCDNR have installed a “Fish Cam” at the CRRP fishlift, which is placed in front of one of the two viewing windows. Check it out!


 Sweetgrass Pulling Day
Starting in 2014, the Charleston District has hosted an annual Sweetgrass Pulling Day at the St. Stephen Powerhouse where members of the Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Festival Association and local basket weavers come and pick naturally growing sweetgrass that was discovered on the property. This partnership gave access to a depleting resource and allowed the basket makers to continue this precious art form. To learn more about the day, watch our video- http://youtu.be/xkrId70eLQo
 Visitor Center Redesign

A dramatic transformation of the CRRP Visitor Center is nearly complete. We now have new educational displays, new AV equipment, and two new videos about the fishlift and the history of the CRRP (see the link on our main page). Superb photographs of some of the CRRP’s bird life have been provided for display by Dr. Don Wuori, and art from the winners of the SCDNR’s annual “Reel Art” Contest also will be on display. New bench seating provides a more comfortable educational experience for visitors of all ages. Please contact the SCDNR’s Dennis Center (843-825-3387) to schedule a tour.





Cooper River Rediversion Project

P.O. Box 940

St. Stephen, SC 29470

Tours and Guidelines

SCDNR offers tours of the St. Stephen fish lock and the Bayless Hatchery. Contact the SCDNR Dennis Wildlife Center in Bonneau, SC at 843-825-3387 for more information.

The main gate to the powerhouse is closed to the public. No public tours of the powerhouse are available.

Fishers, boaters, and hunters are strongly encouraged to practice safety, good sportsmanship, and obey all SCDNR regulations and guidance, including required licenses, seasons, and bag limits.