Establishing a malaria control program was the first job of all, a benefit for the entire state. Then came the clearing of the land–177,000 acres of swamp and timberland.
More than 12,500 workers, taken off the relief rolls in every county of the state, were hired and campsites built. Due to land clearing for impoundment of the two lakes, entire communities had to be relocated.
It was vital to keep them intact. They were moved or rebuilt. Even cemeteries were moved. Families who lived side by side for generations were kept together. Many of them actually ended up with more land or newer homes than when the project started, not to mention 100 free chickens for every farm family!
Over 200 million board feet of timber were harvested during the clearing operation and sold in a manner that did not disrupt the economic structure of that industry. Beginning at Pinopolis, the 225-square mile reservoir was excavated and 42 miles of dams and dikes were constructed. This included the 26-mile earthen dike that reaches 78 feet above the coastal plain. The Pinopolis Dam included the hydro station and navigation lock, the highest single-lift lock in the world.
Sixty feet wide and 180 feet long, it still lifts boats 75 feet from the Tailrace Canal to the surface of Lake Moultrie. On the banks of the Tailrace Canal, adjacent to the hydro station, a switchyard was built—the hub of the transmission system for electricity generated by Santee Cooper. From this switchyard flowed electricity for distribution systems, electric cooperatives and major industrial users.
On the Santee River, an eight-mile-long earthen dam finally eliminated the periodic and life-threatening floods of the past. At the time, it was the longest earthen dam in the world. A 3,400-foot spillway was built to control floodwaters. Its 62 massive gates allowed spilling of excess water. In completing the largest earth-moving project in the nation’s history, 42 million cubic yards of earth were moved and 3.1 million cubic yards of concrete were poured. With no direct state investment in the project, South Carolina was the recipient of one of the wonders of the 20th century and resulted in one of its most valuable and ongoing resources. More importantly, the incalculable benefits of affordable power became available to virtually all South Carolinians.