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Low lake levels hurt area economy

Posted: January 2, 2013 - 12:03am

In terms of the economy, as goes Clarks Hill Lake, so goes the region.

That’s the gist of a recent analysis from Clemson University’s Strom Thurmond Institute. The report makes it clear that low lake levels cost our community jobs, home sales and overall economic activity.

Hardest hit from low levels is Columbia County. As outdoor writer Rob Pavey recently reported, while the 72,000-acre reservoir is surrounded by six counties in two states, Columbia County is the largest – accounting for more than 71 percent of the jobs and personal income in the lake region.

Lake levels have approached record lows in recent months, registering more than 15 feet below full pool of 330 feet above sea level. The low levels are obvious to anyone visiting Clarks Hill Lake; the muddy shoreline surrounding the reservoir has stranded boat ramps and made many areas dangerously shallow or inaccessible.

Less obvious is the economic impact – to everything from real estate sales, to boat and recreational purchases, to fishing supply sales. It’s not small potatoes, either.

In fact, the study estimates that 1 foot of water in Clarks Hill Lake, up or down, represents a net gain or loss of revenue to Columbia County of $438,000 per month.

“These models confirm statistically significant relationships between (Clarks Hill) Lake levels and economic activity,” the study says – noting that during the study period, low lake levels cost our county alone about 300 jobs and more than $180 million in economic output.

While the details in the numbers might be a surprise, no one who is dependent on a healthy Clarks Hill Lake is unaware of the ongoing economic struggle caused by low water levels.

We should all hope that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers takes those numbers seriously and recognizes that water levels are about more than just electricity generation and fish habitat. They’re about livelihoods, too.

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