Patriot's Lake is “technically possible” but not “economically justified” according to a study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Three years after it was initiated, the final copy of the study was presented to Union County Council Wednesday afternoon by Patrick E. O'Donnell, project manager with the Army Corps of Engineers Charleston Division. The study looks at both the technical aspects of building the lake by damming the Tyger River and Fairforest Creek and whether or not it would be justified economically.
O'Donnell told council that the Corps determined the dam could be built and that the Tyger River could support the reservoir that would be created. In the course of its study, the Corps found that the reservoir would sit on two recently active earthquake faults, but O'Donnell said this would not prevent its construction.
“It is technically possible to build the dam, meaning that there's enough water flow in the Tyger River that if a reservoir was built enough water could continue downstream and meet state law requiring that a dam not hold back too much water and geologically it's certainly possible,” O'Donnell said. “I know there are concerns about the specifics of the site such as a fault line being nearby, but those considerations are taken care of in the design phase. It may raise the cost of construction, but it does not eliminate the possibility of building a dam on the Tyger River.”
The study projects that the lake would cost $187 million to build and O'Donnell said the Corps determined that while the lake would generate some benefits, it would not be enough to justify its construction on economic grounds.
“Our view is that, given a lot of the assumptions you always have to make about the future, it's probably not worth the investment to build the lake,” he said. “Even though there's some economic benefit from it, we don't see it right now as being worth the investment.
“As I said, there's a lot of assumptions that go into that about how the dam would be built and construction costs,” he said. “There's also a lot of assumptions about how many homes might be lakefront property or how many people might visit and provide recreation dollars and those go into our basic conclusion. If those change then obviously the outcome might change, but as we've done it today it is not something we see as economically justified.”
Lake proponents have touted it as a source of water for the county and the Upstate; an economic boon for the county; and a potential source of hydroelectric power. O'Donnell said the county would receive some benefits from the lake in terms of recreation and an improved tax base through lakefront development.
“Reservoirs are popular when it comes to things like recreation and there's some economic benefit to recreation-related lake use and certainly land that is now, say, just pasture land or something like that, becomes more valuable and that means the tax base of Union County improves,” he said. “So there is an economic benefit to the lake in terms of property development around it.”
Though the Corps was not asked to look in-depth at the feasibility of hydroelectric power, O'Donnell said the report does briefly mention that “hydroelectric power appears to something that can be considered.”
As for water supply, O'Donnell said the Corps projects that while the Upstate will continue to experience population growth and increased water demand, surrounding counties will be able to meet their needs without buying water from Union County.
“When it comes to water supply, beyond the ability to deliver water to another county, you have to consider what the cost would be to get it to them, meaning you have to treat the water and build the pipelines to get it to them, then you have to charge a rate that would be enough to recover your cost,” he said. “The question then is would that rate likely be lower than the cost at which another county might be able to find their own water supply.
“Our view is that there's enough water flowing through the counties around Union County that as their demand for water grows, they can probably take care of their water needs themselves,” he said. “That would mean it's not likely Union County would be able to sell water to the other counties. So we did not really see through our growth projections through 2030 enough population growth to justify that part.”
The county plans to seek $100,000 in federal funding for a reconnaissance study. This would be the next phase in the process and would then lead to a feasibility study. followed by an environmental impact statement.
O'Donnell said that based on his experience the reconnaissance and feasibility studies and the environmental impact statement could cost more than $14 million and take a decade to complete. The lake is opposed by environmental groups and O'Donnell said if they were to take the matter to court it could be 20 years before construction would actually begin. He said this refutes the charge made by some lake opponents that the lake is a scheme by proponents to enrich themselves.
“It's hard to see how someone would have a personal benefit on something that could be 20 or more years away,” he said.