Turning a Cooling Pond into Wetlands
“I always enjoy, and benefit from, hiring co-op students. They bring a fresh and unique perspective to each environmental engineering project. Paige Kimble, a biosystem engineering student at Clemson University, is our co-op employee and guest blogger. She has been providing support for a Santee Cooper wetland conversion project in Conway, South Carolina.” Professional Engineer Susan Jackson, manager of Santee Cooper’s waste management department.
In addition to covering some of the benefits wetlands provide in a previous blog, it is obvious why we would want to preserve as many natural areas as we can: beauty, survival of native plants and animals, and less opportunity for invasive species, to name just a few. What may not be obvious is how to return what once was an industrial cooling pond, such as Lake Busbee, back to a natural environment.
What does it take to turn a cooling pond into wetlands again? The approach depends on what the environment started off as and what the area was developed into. The Lake Busbee area was originally a wetland near the Waccamaw River. As a cooling pond, Busbee was an integral part of the infrastructure at Santee Cooper’s now decommissioned Grainger Generating Station.
The first step was to test the water and sediment in the pond. Analytical test results were evaluated and compared to the natural background levels in the area, confirming it would not be a risk to humans, animals or plants.
The second step was to drain the industrial pond. Large pumps moved water out of the pond, back to the river it originally came from. Natural evaporation eliminated additional water, leaving large areas of relatively dry land that could be planted.
A lower water level was, and continues to be, important because the third step is to introduce young, native plant species to the area. For Busbee, we planted tupelo, cypress and various oak tree seedlings, and we spread seeds. If left on its own without our plantings, this pond would eventually grow native species and return to wetlands. However, we hope introducing these plants now will speed up Busbee’s return to wetlands while reducing the threat of invasive species.
The fourth, final, and arguably most important step, is to allow nature to grow and reclaim this piece of land. Wetlands are an iconic feature of the Southeast and it is Santee Cooper’s honor to help restore this area.