All of the large lakes in South Carolina were created during the twentieth century when energy companies built dams on nearly all of the major river systems to produce hydroelectric power. Lake Wateree was the first of the state’s large lakes, formed when the Duke Power Company built a hydroelectric dam on the Wateree River in 1919. It is located in northern Kershaw and eastern Fairfield Counties and covers 13,700 acres. Lake Marion, formed after a dam was built on the Santee River in 1942, is the largest lake in the state, encompassing 110,000 acres. Other lakes formed on the Santee River tributaries include Wylie (1925), Murray (1930), Greenwood (1940), and Moultrie (1942). Lakes on the Savannah River system include Strom Thurmond (1954), Hartwell (1963), Keowee (1971), Jocassee (1974), and Russell (1984).
The lakes are managed by the energy companies that operate the dams and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. County sheriff departments are in charge of law enforcement on the waterways. The lakes are popular recreational areas during the warm months, and a large number of vacation homes and, increasingly, permanent homes dot their coastlines. The lakes are popular places to swim, boat, and fish. A variety of fish can be found in the state’s lakes, including several types of bass, especially largemouth and striped; catfish; crappie; bream; and many others.
The formation of these lakes had a profound impact on the geography of the state. The hundreds of thousands of acres now under water were once inhabited; many small towns, crossroads, and communities have been wiped off the map. Lexington Water Power Company moved around five thousand people, six churches, and two schools in 1930 when Lake Murray was formed in the Midlands.
Kovacik, Charles F., and John J. Winberry. South Carolina: The Making of a Landscape. 1987. Reprint, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989.