CHEROKEE COUNTY, S.C. (WSPA) – Lake Whelchel in Cherokee County is open and algae counts are low.
“We have made quite a bit of progress,” said Bryant Fleming, the water superintendent for the Gaffney Board of Public Works.
In April, leaders installed four floating wetlands on the lake, in partnership with Clemson Extension. Now, three months later, they believe those wetlands are helping prevent harmful algae blooms.
“We usually have 10,000 to 15,000 algae count at this time of year, and now, we are at 5,000 so we have seen a considerable reduction in the algae count,” said Fleming.
Fleming said the plants take in nutrients, which can cause algae blooms, and were installed in strategic spots.
“We’re understanding where the nutrients are coming from and where we can better attack it next year,” said Fleming.
Over the past few years, algae has caused problems on the lake, at times, even forcing leaders to shut it down. Fleming said so far, this year is different.
“We have not had to shut the reservoir down and we’re really pleased with that,” said Fleming.
Fleming said the wetlands are also pinpointing hotspot areas.
“It’s exciting because we did not realize how the nutrient runoff was coming into the reservoir. There were areas that we thought were the problem and that was not an issue at all, so it’s been very educational,” said Fleming.
He said it’s been a learning curve but crews are staying vigilant, monitoring the algae count. He’s hopeful the lake will stay open all summer, despite warm temperatures which can cause the blooms.
“The warm weather is what we’re really concerned with and August, early September, we could see an increase,” said Fleming.
He said these wetlands could help maintain the lake for generations to come.
“Now that we know where our problems areas lie, we will be able to expand those floating wetlands to uptake more of the nutrients and again, stabilize the ecosystem in our reservoir,” said Fleming.
He said at the end of the summer, they’ll harvest and analyze the plants to better understand their results. Lake Whelchel is the county’s main water source.