Lower Saluda River

The Congaree Riverkeeper’s geographical area includes the Saluda River from below the Lake Murray dam to its confluence with the Broad River to form the Congaree.

View a panorama of the Lower Saluda River.

Geographical Description

The Lower Saluda River flows out of the Lake Murray dam and merges downstream with the Broad River to form the Congaree River in the City of Columbia. The Lower Saluda Basin contains the Town of Lexington, Gilbert, Summit and Irmo, and portions of the Cities of Columbia and West Columbia. Rawls Creek, Lorick Branch, and Kinley Creek drain into the Saluda River near the City of Irmo. Juniper Creek and Long Creek join to form Twelvemile Creek near the Town of Gilbert. Twelvemile Creek flows through the Town of Lexington, and accepts the drainage of Fourteenmile Creek before discharging into the Lower Saluda. The Lower Saluda River follows a generally straight southeastern course with mostly forested riverbanks, except in the vicinity of occasional transmission line crossings or developments. The river can be described as mostly low-gradient pools and glides with occasional riffles in the upper reach, and a somewhat higher gradient lower reach with pools, riffles, and rapids over bedrock and boulder substrate, particularly where the river cuts through the fall line near Columbia. The river becomes braided with several side channels and islands at the confluence with the Broad River. Major transportation routes in the Basin include S.C. 6, which runs from the Lake Murray dam south through the Town of Lexington; U.S. 1 and U.S. 378, which run west from the City of West Columbia and intersects with Highway 6 in Lexington; and I-26, running southeast from the Upstate to the Midlands and on to Charleston; and I-20, running east from Aiken County through the Midlands and further on to the Pee Dee Region. The Lower Saluda Basin is mostly located in Lexington County with a small portion in Richland County.

Land Use

Land cover in the watershed includes: 48.6% forested land, 25.6% urban land, 20.2% agricultural land, 2.8% forested wetland (swamp), 1.8% water, 0.9% barren land, and 0.1% nonforested wetland (marsh). The Towns of Lexington, Irmo, and Gilbert have grown rapidly in the past and are expected to continue this trend.

Parks, Protected Areas and Recreational Access

State Scenic River 

A 10-mile segment of the Saluda River beginning one mile below Lake Murray Dam to its confluence with the Broad River was designated a State Scenic River by the Legislature on May 31, 1991. The Lower Saluda Scenic River is recognized as an outstanding recreational resource. The tailrace waters from Lake Murray reservoir provide a cold water fishery and varying water levels for recreational boating. Trout and striped bass fishing as well as whitewater (class II to V rapids) and flatwater paddling are very popular on this piedmont river. These factors, combined with the surrounding topography and rock outcrops similar to mountain streams and the heavily wooded landscape, make the Lower Saluda River corridor an outstanding natural resource within the urban environment of metropolitan Columbia. 

The original Lower Saluda River Corridor Plan was developed by a local Lower Saluda Scenic River Advisory Committee in 1990. This plan presented over 70 recommendations for the long-term management of the river. The corridor plan was updated in April 2000. The plan is implemented through voluntary efforts by riparian landowners. 

Saluda Shoals Park

Saluda Shoals Park is a 350-acre regional park located along the north side of the upper section of the Lower Saluda River. In addition to educational and conference facilities, it offers hiking, biking and horseback riding, a river observation deck, river bank access, and boat ramps for small boats, canoes, and kayaks. 

Riverbanks Zoological Park and Gardens 

The Riverbanks Zoo is a 170-acre zoo, botanical gardens and aquarium located along the Saluda River. It is South Carolina’s largest gated tourist attraction, averaging 1 million visitors a year. The Zoo is home to over 3,000 animals and over 4,000 plant species are located within its botanical gardens. 

Public Boat Landings

Access by boat can be made at Hope Ferry Landing on the Lexington side of the river and at Saluda Shoals Park on the Irmo side. Further downstream is the boat ramp at Gardendale on the north side of the river before the I-20 bridge. Access is also possible for canoes and kayaks near Candi Lane just upstream of the Zoo, but there is no public parking.


Fish and Mussels

The Lower Saluda River supports an important sport fishery for both coldwater and warmwater species. The coldwater fishery is possible because of the cooler than normal water released from Lake Murray, and is maintained by annual trout stockings by DNR of approximately 30,000 trout, with about 75% brown trout and 25% rainbow trout. Typical length at stocking is from 7 to 10 inches, but rainbow trout of 4 to 8 pounds have been caught, indicating some carryover of fish from year to year in spite of low levels of dissolved oxygen in the fall months. Warmwater species occurring in the lower Saluda River include chain pickerel, redbreast sunfish, redear sunfish, bluegill, largemouth bass, carp, channel catfish, spotted sucker, yellow perch, sandbar shiner, and gizzard shad.

Striped bass are present in the Lower Saluda during their spawning season. Striped bass from the Santee Cooper lakes migrate upstream to the Congaree, Wateree, Lower Broad, and Lower Saluda rivers to spawn in the spring, and also use the cooler Lower Saluda River as a thermal refuge during the summer months. American Eel may exist in the Lower Saluda.

In 2006, SCE&G sponsored a comprehensive mussel survey of Lake Murray and its tributaries, the Lower Saluda River, the Broad River, and the Congaree River. Sixteen freshwater mussel species were collected and identified within the areas surveyed, including: common elliptio, variable spike, Carolina lance, northern lance, Atlantic spike, Roanoke slabshell, Carolina slabshell, Florida pondhorn, paper pondshell, eastern floater, creeper, eastern creekshell, yellow lampmussel, rayed pink fatmucket, and lilliput species (Toxolasma parvus). Distribution of mussel species varies according to habitat, with species tolerant of lacustrine habitat occurring within Lake Murray, and lotic species more common in riverine habitat.


Within the Riverbanks Zoo area, bird habitat can be heavily fragmented and degraded, but the extensive trail system affords the opportunity to see interesting species. The rocky shoals, the steep hardwood bluffs of Riverbanks Zoo, and the area upstream of the diversion weir provide habitats that attract interesting and unique bird species. Spring and fall warbler migrations are inconsistent from year to year, but can be impressive. Some of these migrants include: Canada Goose, Red-breasted Merganser, Hooded Merganser, Horned Grebe, Mallard, Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Osprey, Bald Eagle, American Kestrel, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Caspian Tern, Forster’s Tern, Belted Kingfisher, Eastern Kingbird, Barn Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Brown Creeper, House Wren, Philadelphia Vireo, Magnolia Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Yellow Warbler,  Chestnut-sided Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler,  American Redstart, Prothonotary Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Field Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Orchard Oriole.

Saluda Shoals Park’s extensive riverside and powerline easement trail system affords the opportunity to see many of the same bird species as seen in Columbia’s downtown parks, along with many field species. The park is often one of the best places near Columbia to see spring and fall migrants, so a near-comprehensive list of migrating warblers has been included here.  Some piedmont species are highlighted as well. Sightings include: Hooded Merganser, Green Heron, Mississippi Kite, Red-shouldered Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, American Kestrel, Spotted Sandpiper, Belted Kingfisher, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Acadian Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, House Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Bluebird, Wood Thrush, Gray Catbird, Cedar Waxwing, Blue-winged Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Palm Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Prothonotary Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Swainson’s Warbler, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, Louisiana Waterthrush, Kentucky Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded Warbler, Canada Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Scarlet Tanager, Swamp Sparrow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, and Painted Bunting.

Threatened or Endangered Species

Six species of federal concern are found within the Lake Murray area - Carolina Slabshell, Roanoke Slabshell, Carolina Lance, Savannah lilliput, Yellow Lampmussel, and Rayed-Pink Fatmucket.

The endangered shortnose sturgeon is believed to exist in the Lower Saluda River for short time periods during spawning season. The endangered Carolina Heelsplitter is believed to exist in the Lower Saluda River watershed.

As for other wildlife, the American Bald Eagle, endangered but recovering, is also known to exist within the Congaree River watershed, along with the endangered Arctic Peregrine Falcon, Brown Pelican, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Wood Stork, and Red Wolf.

Surface Water Hydrology

Streamflow in the Lower Saluda River has been monitored continuously since 1925 at a gage located about .5 mile above Riverbanks Zoo. Another USGS gage located below the Saluda Project dam has been in operation since 1988. Major tributary streams that feed the Lower Saluda River include Twelvemile Creek and Fourteenmile Creek on the south (Lexington) side of the river and Rawls Creek, Kinley Creek, and Sloop Creek on the north (Irmo) side of the river. The tributary streams have not been monitored for streamflow.

Average flow in the Saluda River near Columbia is 2,762 cfs and has ranged from a low of 12 cfs in 1930 to a peak flow of 67,000 cfs in 1929. Flows in the Saluda River have been influenced by regulated releases from the Saluda Hydroelectric Project since its completion in 1930. Historically, minimum flow releases from the Saluda Project have been 180 cfs; however, recommendations by the resource agencies to FERC for the new operating license increase the minimum flows to at least 700 cfs for most of the year and higher in April and May. This should result in less flow variability and higher low flows in the future.

Real-time streamflow and/or gage height can be accessed at these stations from the U.S. Geological Service web site.

Streamflow gaging stations and statistics for the Lower Saluda River Basin

Gage Name/Location/# Period of Record Mean Flow (Cfs) Min Daily Flow (Cfs) Max Daily Flow (Cfs) Max Peak Flow (Cfs)
Saluda River Below Lake Murray (02168504) 1988 - 2007 2,243 155 (1989) 21,800 (1995) 22,400 (1995)
Saluda River Near Columbia (02169000) 1925 - 2007 2,720 12.0 (1930) 62,300 (1929) 67,000 (1929)

Surface Water Quality

The Lower Saluda River is unique in its water quality classification for a Midlands river due to cold water releases from Lake Murray, resulting in cooler than normal water temperatures. It is classified as "Put, Grow and Take" Trout Waters (TPGT). By state standards, Class TPGT waters are freshwaters suitable for supporting growth of stocked trout populations and a balanced indigenous aquatic community of fauna and flora. They are also suitable for primary and secondary contact recreation and as a source for drinking water supply after conventional treatment in accordance with the requirements of the Department; suitable for fishing and the survival and propagation of a balanced indigenous aquatic community of fauna and flora; and suitable also for industrial and agricultural uses. All other streams are classified as "freshwaters."

The Trout Water classification supports a popular trout fishery created by deep coldwater discharges from Lake Murray. The Department of Natural Resources stocks about 30,000 Rainbow and Brown trout annually to maintain the trout population, which is unable to reproduce. However, these same deepwater (hypolimnetic) discharges also result in low dissolved oxygen (DO) levels in the Saluda River. Since 1999, SCE&G has reduced the problem by making modifications to project operations and equipment to improve aeration. Even though the daily average DO has increased from 2.7 mg/L to 7.2 mg/L and instantaneous levels have improved, DO levels still do not meet state water quality standards all the time. Consequently, DHEC has included in its 401 Water Quality Certification for the relicensing of the project the requirement that SCE&G must make additional modifications to meet state DO standards in the river "under all operating levels and conditions" within an agreed upon time frame.

The table below lists all waters in the Lower Saluda River Basin identified by DHEC as impaired, that is, not meeting recreational and aquatic life water quality criteria. High fecal coliform levels are the greatest water quality problem causing impaired recreational use in the basin. Recreational use is impaired at seven locations including Kinley Creek, Lorick Branch, Rawls Creek, the Saluda River, and Twelvemile Creek. Poor macroinvertebrate assemblages account for impaired aquatic life uses at five sites. High turbidity and low DO impair aquatic life uses at two sites and one site, respectively. Many sites have had approved TMDL's since 2004 but still do not sufficiently meet water quality criteria. Fish flesh analysis from the Saluda River below Lake Murray Dam indicates high levels of mercury (Hg). Consequently, DHEC has issued a public health advisory for consuming certain fish species in the Saluda River from the Dam to its confluence with the Broad River. They advise that people limit consumption of largemouth bass, chain pickerel, and bowfin (mudfish) to one meal per week.

Impaired waters in the Lower Saluda River Basin

Station Description Use Cause Report No. Tmdl Approved
S-848 Fourteen Mile Creek at Sr 28 Al Bio    
S-260 Kinley Ck at S-32-36 (St. Andrews Rd) in Irmo Al Bio    
S-260 Kinley Ck at S-32-36 (St. Andrews Rd) in Irmo Rec FC 011-04 9/16/2004
S-150 Lorick Br at Pt Upstrm of Jct with Saluda River Al DO    
S-150 Lorick Br at Pt Upstrm of Jct with Saluda River Rec FC 018-04 9/30/2004
Rs-01012 Rawls Creek at County Rd 175, 0.25 MW of Irmo Al Bio    
S-287 Rawls Creek at S-32-107 Al Turbidity    
S-287 Rawls Creek at S-32-107 Rec FC 005-01 1/17/2001
S-149 Saluda Rvr at Mepco Elect. Plant Water Intake Sse Irmo Al Turbidity    
S-149 Saluda Rvr at Mepco Elect. Plant Water Intake Sse Irmo Rec FC 011-04 9/16/2004
S-298 Saluda Rvr at Usgs Gaging Station, 1/2 Mi Below I-20 Rec FC    
S-152 Saluda Rvr Just Below Lk Murray Dam Fish Hg    
S-052 Twelve Mile Creek at Sr 106 Al Bio    
Rs-02457 Twelvemile Creek at S-32-106 Rec FC 011-04 9/16/2004
S-294 Twelvemile Creek at U.S. Route 378 Al Bio    
S-294 Twelvemile Creek at U.S. Route 378 Rec FC 011-04 9/16/2004

Source: DHEC 2010 303d List and Approved TMDL List As of 12/09/10.

Wastewater Discharges

There are a total of 10 permitted wastewater dischargers in the Lower Saluda River Basin. Most are small domestic treatment facilities, four are industrial, and one is municipal.

NPDES # Permittee Type County Receiving Waterbody
SC0027162 CWS Watergate Domestic Lexington 14 Mile Creek
SC0032743 Development Service Inc. Domestic Lexington Saluda River
SC0035564 CWS I-20 Domestic Lexington Saluda River
SC0029475 Woodland Hills West Domestic Lexington Saluda River
SC0029483 Alpine Utilities Domestic Lexington Stoops Creek
SC0036137 CWS Friarsgate Domestic Lexington Saluda River
SC0003557 Shaw Industries Group Industrial Lexington Saluda River
SC0048330 Philips Electronics Industrial Lexington Lorick Branch
SC0002046 SCE&G McMeekin Industrial Lexington Saluda River & Lake Murray
SC0002071 SCE&G Saluda Hydro Industrial Lexington Saluda River

Surface Water Withdrawals

There are a total of 15 surface water withdrawals in the Lower Saluda River Basin. Most of the individual withdrawals are for agricultural irrigation on tributary streams. The largest withdrawals are associated with the Saluda Hydroelectric Project and McMeekin Electric Generating facilities on the Saluda River.

Surface water withdrawals in the Lower Saluda Basin

Facility Name Owner's ID Use Type Stream Name County  Annual Use (Mg)
Country Club of Lexington Twelve Mile Creek Golf Course Twelve Mile Creek Lexington 16.3
Golden Hills Golf & Country Club Pond Golf Course Pond Lexington 5.79
Shaw Industries Group Inc. Saluda River Industrial Saluda River Lexington 7668.46
SCE&G Saluda Saluda Hydro Industrial   Lexington 53087.76
SCE&G McMeekin Station Fossil Plant McMeekin Station Industrial Lower Saluda Lexington 58179.6
Sease Clinton Farms Pond #3 Irrigation Twelve Mile Creek Lexington 13.75
Sease Clinton Farms Pond #1 Irrigation Juniper Creek Lexington 15.75
Sease Clinton Farms Pond #2 Irrigation Twelve Mile Creek Lexington 6.2
Rawl & Sons Walter Farm Roof - 1 Irrigation Rocky Creek Lexington 26.905
Rawl & Sons Walter Farm C Rawl's Place - 3 Irrigation Fourteen Mile Creek Lexington 45.864
Rawl & Sons Walter Farm Peach Stand - 2 Irrigation Long Creek Lexington 39.073
Rawl & Sons Walter Farm Kaiser Place - 4 Irrigation Rocky Creek Lexington 18.84
Rawl & Sons Walter Farm Riley Farm - 6 Irrigation Hollow Creek Lexington 6.13
Rawl & Sons Walter Farm Caughman 8 Irrigation   Lexington 66.97
Rawl & Sons Walter Farm Mont's Irrigation   Lexington 42.689

Other Interested/Related Organizations

  • Lexington County
  • Town of Lexington
  • Riverbanks Zoo
  • South Carolina Electric & Gas Company
  • Trout Unlimited
  • Lower Saluda Scenic River Advisory Council