Copyright 2008- Steve Bell

 Lake Murray near Columbia, SC

47,500 acres, 40 miles long and 650 miles of shoreline


Steve Bell is a founding member of Lake Murray Watch and has served as President since  its formation   over 10 years ago. The organization's  450 members serve as watch dogs over the the lake's environmental resources.  For his conservation efforts on Lake Murray, Steve received the SC Wildlife Federation's 2005 "Water Conservation Award" at the the Federation's annual meeting. In 2010, Steve was named Capital City/Lake Murray Country "Volunteer of the Year" for his "time and talents that significantly contributed to the success of the organization." He represented Lake Murray Watch in SCE&G's relicensing process and was a signatory to the settlement agreement. Steve also has been a contributing writer for the Lake Murray News for the past 10 years.

Contact Steve at or call @ 803-730-8121

 In the News : 

 Feds deny marina expansion

By Steve Bell, Lake Watch Columnist
In a ruling that could have far reaching effects, the federal agency that oversees SCE&G’s management of the lake has denied a request by Lake Murray Docks to expand its marina located at the rear of Yacht Cove on Lake Murray. Lake Murray Docks wants to add 8 slips to its existing 146-boat-slip marina facility. The proposed new structure would be used by members of the Windward Point Yacht Club.
In its ruling dated February 26, 2014, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) explained its decision. “The existing marina is a pre-existing facility allowed to continue to operate at the site in its present condition, despite its non-conformity with the current Shoreline Management Plan standards. Approving more dock slips in an already over developed cove would only exacerbate the problem of non-compliance with the existing SMP guidelines. Approval of these additional docks would increase the non-conformity of the existing facility and would add additional structures and watercraft to a narrow cove that already has a greater concentration of boat dock facilities than allowed in the existing SMP guidelines. Moreover, although the applicant did consult with South Carolina DNR and FWS it was unable to obtain their approval, as required by the SMP guidelines. In fact, both South Carolina DNR and FWS oppose the proposed dock expansion.”
The Commission questioned why SCE&G did not reject the application from the onset noting several deficiencies in Lake Murray Dock’s permit application. “SCE&G claims it neither supports nor objects to the proposed dock and only performs the administrative function of filing a properly drafted application”. The Commission indicated that “the permit application did not include a variance request nor identify any extenuating circumstances of why a variance of the requirements should be granted to allow the proposal.” In addition, the applicant did not get approval from resource agencies as required by the existing SMP. Given this information, the licensee should have initially denied the applicant’s request based on the above SMP provisions and its license obligations. Under these circumstances, it is not clear why the licensee saw fit to submit an application to the Commission that is, on its face, deficient and perhaps patently so.”
In conclusion FERC stated, While the specific proposal appears to have minimal environmental impacts, it would expand the marina’s facility’s current non-conformity and, at the same time, result in a further reduction in the available surface area of Yacht Cove for public recreational opportunities. The current marina facility is allowed as a grandfathered use under the approved SMP, and the application does not adequately justify further expansion of the facility. For these reasons, we find that approval of the proposal is not in the public interest and the application should be denied.”
The ruling no doubt will set a precedent that might affect other grandfathered-in facilities looking for ways to accommodate the growing demand for slip rentals, and other  amenities that marinas offer. During SCE&G’s relicensing process, there was strong consensus among stakeholders to make sure existing facilities have the tools necessary to stay in business, thus reducing the need to construct additional “mega” facilities which can have devastating effects on the environment and neighboring communities.  
Jim Leslie, owner of Lake Murray Docks, believes there is a growing number of large boats on the lake and his proposed plan would help by providing accommodations for boats up to 34’.  He said he is studying the ruling and so far questions the FERC’s interpretation of certain shoreline regulations, noting his application was approved by both SC DHEC and the US Army Corp of Engineers. Furthermore, SCE&G told FERC that the proposed dock addition is not inconsistent with overall project purposes, including recreation, and would not conflict with any natural, historic, or scenic values or resources of the project. The ruling stated that SCE&G agreed with applicant's projection of minimal impact.
Commentary- Lake Watch concurs with SCE&G’s evaluation that the proposed expansion would have minimal impacts. Lake Watch believes it is necessary and in the public’s best interest to accommodate the needs of our existing public marinas as best we can.  We cannot nitpick them out of business. But, the marina owner ultimately bares the burden to prove that the public benefits resulting from a proposed project (expansion in this case) clearly outweigh any potential negative impacts. For marina owners who are in compliance, and are requesting to expand beyond their existing permit limitations, the same applies. Simply complying with setbacks is no longer good enough. In this case, it appears that without a request for variance or extenuating circumstances that show great public benefits, FERC denied the request. Lake Murray Docks has 30 days to request a rehearing.  Steve Bell is President of Lake Murray Watch, a signatory of SCE&G’s new license, and owns Lake Murray
Will lake draw down help water quality?

By Steve Bell, Lake Watch columnist


Back in September of 2013, SCE&G announced plans to lower the lake to enhance water quality. The lake was gradually dropped to the 350 foot level by December lst. On January 1st, the refill began back to the normal high pool level of 358 feet. The company explained, “In years past, periodic draw downs to similar levels were conducted that allowed rain to scour shallow coves which greatly benefits water quality.  The last draw-down such as this was conducted in 2006.” As part of the relicensing process, SCE&G contracted Jim Ruane, a consultant with Reservoir Environmental Management Inc. to evaluate how project operations impact water quality in the lake and the lower Saluda River. Ruane told members of the Water Quality Technical Working Committee, that “drawing Lake Murray down to the 350’ elevation would have significant benefits to water quality in the upper lake region.” A study, using water quality model developed from Ruane’s previous experiences at other lakes, indicated that the Little Saluda embayment has the potential for nutrient build up. Lowering the lake significantly during the winter increases scouring of organic and inorganic matters, and increases water exchange from the embayment and the main water body. This decreases internal nutrient cycling and lessens the possibility that the decay process will deplete dissolved oxygen (DO) levels that could result in fish kills. Low DO water eventually migrates to the dam area further complicating conditions necessary for striped bass survival during the hot summer months.


Lake groups questioned whether Ruane’s model would work on Lake Murray, noting the model was developed from a study conducted on a neighboring lake. The recent temporary drawdown after 8 years should provide an opportunity to test Ruane’s theory.  An evaluation of data collected before and after should show whether or not higher lake levels compromised water quality.   Will the recent draw down , improve DO as theorized by the model. Stay tuned for the results. Steve Bell is President of Lake Murray, a signatory of SCE&G’s license agreement, and owns Lake Murray Images. Email



  Agencies say too much shoreline development will ruin the lake


Right-Camping Creek cove "For Sale"

"In consideration of current water quality trends, DHEC believes that minimization of future urban development along the Lake Murray shoreline is necessary to maintain long term water quality"..................Rheta Geddings, Bureau of Water

"It is abundantly clear that certain areas slated for future development, need to be protected for their natural, recreational, and scenic values." ...Ed Duncan, Environmental Programs Director, SCDNR

"Rapid development has caused a general degradation of water quality, boating safety problems due to crowding, and loss of fish and wildlife habitat." .....Roger Banks, Field Supervisor US Fish and Wildlife Service

"The increasing development is affecting recreational usage and safety on the lake and adding to concerns about water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and scenic integrity." ..............Tony Bebber, Planning Manager, SC PRT


" The licensee's (SCE&G) proposal, to allow consumer demand and economic factors to dictate type, location, and size of development will not ensure protection of aquatic and terrestrial resources. Some areas of the lake are not conducive to development. Without planning and foresight, shoreline development can contribute to overcrowding conditions, and environmental degradation. ".... Mark Robinson, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission 

Please help us support our wildlife and water quality experts


 "Others talk about it, we are doing something about it!"



What will Lake Murray look like in 30 years?
By Steve Bell
For three and a half years, starting in 2005, South Carolina Electric and Gas Company met with over a dozen stakeholder groups to identify, discuss and resolve a multitude of issues relating to the operation and management of the Saluda River Hydro Project.  The meetings were part of SCE&G’s efforts to development a new license plan that will stand up to new federal environmental and recreational requirements.
Of major concern was how to manage the remaining undeveloped shorelines that are currently under federal control with emphasis on how to do a better job of protecting and enhancing fish and wildlife resources and scenic values in the face of continued developmental pressures.  For over a decade, state and federal natural resource experts had complained that too much shoreline is being developed and not enough shoreline is being preserved, and that “rebalancing” of shoreline uses is needed in order to protect those important public resources.
Committees were formed to evaluate shorelines for their natural resource and economic values. The natural resource committee found that the majority of lands analyzed scored high for natural resource values. The committee recommended that those lands be placed in “Forest Management”, a classification which does not allow development. The economic resource committee found that almost sixty miles of shoreline scored high for economic values and recommended those shorelines be placed in the “Future Development” classification.
SCE&G, the official “arbitrator” in the process, offered a compromise which would allow  development on shorelines high economic values, but would require stricter environmental standards including (1)  requiring a 75 ft. undisturbed vegetative buffer zone , (2) placing covenants on lands sold above the buffer which would prohibit construction of homes or buildings and prohibit clearing of trees larger than 4 inches in diameter, (3) requiring property owners to have a least 200 ft to quality for an individual dock and (4) requiring small community docks, in lieu of individual docks on large tracts where feasible.
The natural resource committee accepted the compromise which was subsequently incorporated in the new Land Use and Shoreline Management Plan. In addition to the rebalancing proposal, stakeholders agreed that approximately 100 miles of shoreline mostly located in the riverene areas, should remain protected in the Forest Management classification, SCE&G should continue its Shoreline Enhancement Program which provides free trees and natural shrubs to homeowners who want to re-nourish shorelines, and finally a buffer zone restoration plan should be implemented requiring homeowners to re-vegetate buffer zones that had been inappropriately cleared due to past development practices.  
During a presentation several years ago to the Lake Murray Homeowners Coalition, DNR fisheries biologist Ron Ahle asked members, “What do you want the lake to look like in 30 years?” Ahle discussed the important public values associated with natural resource protection noting that without changes, those values we hold so dearly today may not be available for future generations to enjoy and nurture.   The changes incorporated in the new shoreline plan should go a long way in helping to ensure that future generations will enjoy those natural resource values we enjoy today- natural shorelines, an abundance of fish and wildlife, good water quality, and above all, places to go to just “get away from it all”. 
Steve Bell is President of Lake Murray Watch and was a member of the committee that developed the Lake Murray Land Use and Shoreline Plan. Steve is a freelance writer and photographer, lives on Lake Murray and owns Lake Murray .


Help protect the lake by contributing to the SCELP

Lake Murray is undergoing intense development pressures, especially in the lower lake and some projects can be potentially harmful to the lake's health. In order for the lake community to challenge projects that pose a threat to the lake, it is essential that we have access to legal resources. Normally this can be expensive but the SC Environmental Law Project offers assistance for free. SCELP is able to offer services because of the many donations received from environmentally consious organizations and citizens throughout the state. Please help us safeguard the lake's environmental resources by contributing to the SCELP. Go to and make a donation.  

 President Steve Bell.."Voice of the lake"

Lake Watch President Steve Bell was honored at the SC Wildlife Federation's 41st Banquet in Spartanburg, receiving this year's Water Conservation Award. The Federation honored 14 other Conservationists at the 3 day affair held at the Marriott at Renaissance Park near downtown Spartanburg on Saturday, January 21. Federation President Angela Viney made the award presentation, stating that  "Steve Bell, an active volunteer on conservation issues around Lake Murray, is the driving force and President of Lake Watch, a non-profit watchdog group that keeps an eye on activities that affect the water quality, wildlife habitat, scenic integrity, and recreational use of the lake. Steve is in constant touch with state and federal agencies and other organizations involved in Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issues involving Lake Murray and the Saluda Hydroelectric Project. He works to coordinate efforts among a variety of these interests, review notices, keep interested parties informed of others' actions, and encourage action to protect the water and land resources associated with the lake. Steve is considered "the voice of the lake" when news media needs information or comments on lake matters. He continues to stress the need to rebalance the uses of the lake to protect the natural and recreational needs with the residential, commercial, and industrial needs. Steve keeps pressure on the power company and public agencies to work toward solutions that will protect the natural resources of the lake and river below the dam. Because of his dedication to Lake Murray and endless conservation efforts, he is this year's Water Conservation Award winner."