The historic Lake Conestee was established in the early 1800s through damming of the Reedy River to harness the rivers waterpower for early mills. By 1892, construction of the existing rock dam had created a 130-acre lake. Over the course of many years, this lake has undergone a natural ecological progression as sediments and soils have filled approximately 90 percent of the lake.
As a result, nature has created a lush bottomland forest containing large wetlands, 1.5 miles of the Reedy River, and a rich diversity of wildlife habitat. The sediments that were deposited in the lake contain pollutants from the Reedy watershed’s industrial past. The Conestee Foundation has entered into a Voluntary Cleanup Contract with the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) to safely manage the legacy contaminants in place, while creating a public wildlife and educational park for the citizens of Greenville County.
The entirety of Lake Conestee is identified by SCDHEC and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region IV as a “watershed-derived Brownfields site.” The lake has now accumulated sufficient sediments to nearly fill the lake, leaving only about 20 acres of shallow wetlands. Through the Voluntary Cleanup Contract with SCDHEC, sediments, soils, surface water, groundwater, and fish tissue have been sampled. Site-related pollutants include a mix of metals, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, PCBs, and pesticides. Quantitative human and ecological health risk assessments have been performed in collaboration with SCDHEC. It has been determined that, because the majority of the former lakebed has naturally filled in and the historical sediments have become capped with a bottomland forest, there are no significant human health risks associated with use of the woodland areas for passive recreation (i.e. hiking trails). Additionally, there are no significant risks to area ecological populations, with the exception of benthic invertebrates within the limited areas of remaining sediments.
The long term care plan for the lake is to keep the sediments in place, minimizing disturbance, keep the Lake Conestee dam in excellent condition, and monitor sediment, water quality and biota for contaminant mobility and ecological impacts. SCDHEC and Clemson University, in collaboration with the Conestee Foundation, are involved in a variety of monitoring activities. Detailed reports are available for review through SCDHEC or through the Conestee Foundation.