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The lakes are completely privately owned except for the Lancaster County park on Bear Creek Lake. These lakes are very large. They are high-hazard dams. This means if they were to fail, many people could be killed downstream, and property damage would be very high. Therefore it is very important that the dams and all associated structures and vegetation be well-maintained and in good shape.


The Cane Creek and Little Lynches Watershed Districts are charged with maintaining five dams in Lancaster County. These dams help reduce flooding and sedimentation in the county. The property owners at the time of construction granted easements to access the dams for operation and maintenance purposes in perpetuity. This includes the dams themselves, the spillways, and all other related structures.

Generally, the easements allow detention of water on a permanent basis at the elevation of the sediment pool (or whatever elevation is deemed safe for the dam construction), and on a temporary basis up to, the elevation of the top of the dam. Impoundment easements follow the designated flood-control topographic contour line, which can impact permanent building construction below this line on the upstream side of any dam for the safety of lives and property. The easement also includes the emergency spillway which is constructed around the side of the dam, and the plunge pool, which is a small pool on the downstream side of the dam. These areas can also become flooded. The easements are on file in the Lancaster County Registrar of Deeds office.

The Lancaster County Building and Zoning office is responsible for issuing building permits and determining the elevation above which a residence and other buildings must be constructed.  The normal water level is far below the flood level of the lake.  Therefore, buildings should not be constructed below the flood level, to be determined by the Lancaster County Building and Zoning office – the area will flood when the water level rises to higher elevations, as it is designed to do.

This general description is not intended to replace, amend or in any other way change the terms of the easements themselves. If you have any questions about the impact of the easement on a specific parcel, you should consult the appropriate expert of your choice.


Recognizing that serious problems of water management resulting from erosion, floodwater, or sediment damages were arising in the watersheds of the rivers and streams of the state of South Carolina, the SC legislature established the Watershed District Law, SC Code of Laws-Title 48-Chapter 11-Watershed Conservation Districts. Watershed conservation districts were established as provided in that chapter within one or more soil and water conservation districts to develop and execute plans and programs relating to a phase of the control or prevention of soil erosion or flooding; the conservation, protection, improvement, development, or utilization of soil and water resources; stormwater management; or the disposal of water. This authority applied, but is not limited to, the planning and carrying out of works of improvement for the foregoing purposes which may be considered by the United States Secretary of Agriculture. In other words: Watershed Districts were created to control flooding and soil erosion in their jurisdiction.

The Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act of 1954, Public Law 83-566, also known simply as PL-566, authorized the Secretary of Agriculture to assist local units of government to provide protection from flooding during major storm events within sub-basins of identified watersheds, within our major river systems. Erosion, floodwater, and sediment damages in the watersheds of the rivers and streams of the United States, causing loss of life and damage to property, constitute a menace to the national welfare; and it is the sense of Congress that the Federal Government should cooperate with States and their political subdivisions, soil or water conservation districts, flood prevention or control districts, and other local public agencies for the purpose of preventing such damages, of furthering the conservation, development, utilization, and disposal of water, and the conservation and utilization of land and thereby of preserving, protecting, and improving the Nation's waterways. In other words: Areas of heavy flooding were identified, a survey was done, and funding was requested under PL-566 to construct a series of dams in the watershed for the purpose of flood control. In South Carolina, the USDA-NRCS provided technical and design information, a local sponsor (Watershed Districts) gained and held the easements (as well as met the actual operation and maintenance requirements). The dams were created for flood control!! The primary spillways are designed to slowly release water to decrease the chances of a downstream flood event. In order to make this possible, the local sponsor gained easements up to the proposed top of dam elevation. This elevation provides the necessary storage area to detain excess stormwater. These easements were legally recorded in the Lancaster County Register of Deeds office. The validity of the easements has been upheld in the SC Supreme Court Case 96-CP-23-1538. The sponsor has the responsibility to maintain these dams to allow for safe and efficient operation. The maintenance consists of but is not limited to: mowing vegetation on the dams, fertilizing the grass on the dams and emergency spillway, replacing or repairing damaged primary spillway hardware, ensuring that the emergency spillway is free of obstructions, and performing periodic inspections of the dams.

It has been the experience of Watershed Districts in South Carolina that easements on flood control structures throughout the state have been encroached upon when landowners are not aware of what the easement entails. If the District has a flood easement on your property, it is there to protect the integrity of the floodwater retarding structure located on or downstream of your property and to manage activities within areas subject to flooding as the lake level rises. The Districts assume no liability or responsibility for personal and real property within the easement boundary. Care should be taken to protect your personal and real property from floodwater damage when the lake level rises. The following information is to protect the dam, reservoir storage, and personal and real property. This list is not all inclusive and other issues may arise.

  1. Building or construction of any kind (homes, camps, boat docks, picnic shelters etc.) below the top of dam elevation will eventually flood. Floating docks may come loose during a storm and cause damage to the riser. 

  2. Storage of any materials (vehicles, equipment, hay, etc.) below top of dam elevation, including in or near the emergency spillway will eventually flood.

  3. Timber operations cannot occur on or access timberland over, through or near the dam or associated structures.

  4. No fill material may be placed anywhere on site without prior approval from the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control – 803-285-7461, as this may constitute a water quality violation or affect the functioning of the dam and associated structures.

  5. No earth moving or alterations without prior approval from the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control – 803-285-7461, as this may constitute a water quality violation or affect the functioning of the dam and associated structures.

  6. Riser gate/lift devices are not to be tampered with.

  7. Management of the surface water and associated issues such as aquatic weed control, fish attractors, private fish stocking, boating, fishing, etc is allowed by the landowners, as the lake is privately owned by the landowners. Private property rights apply to access and use. However, the Districts have no responsibility for these activities, and assume no responsibility to assist with any of these activities or replace fish or compensate landowners if the reservoir needs to be drained for any operation or maintenance purpose.

  8. No building or filling to take place on/around the outlet channel (culverts, bridges, etc.) without prior approval from the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control – 803-285-7461, as this may constitute a water quality violation or affect the functioning of the dam and associated structures.

  9. No storage of boats on or near dam and associated structures is permitted.

  10. No vehicle traffic (four wheelers, trucks, etc.) allowed on dam or emergency spillway.

  11. Fences are not allowed on the dam without prior approval of the Districts. No fences are allowed under any circumstances in the emergency spillway nor across the water. 

  12. No woody vegetation is allowed in the emergency spillway or on the dam. Woody vegetation will be removed as part of the Districts’ normal maintenance activities.

  13. Mowing grass on the dam or spillway is allow at the discretion of the Districts.

  14. No campfires or burning debris on the dam or spillway.

If you have any questions or concerns about this information, please call 803-286-4455, extension 100.

Landowner rights


The land is still yours, even though there is an easement on it. You have the right to protect it and patrol it and control access, just like you do any other part of your land.  In fact, we hope you will carefully control access and not allow people to come on your land who might damage the dam, emergency spillway or principal water control structure.


Just because the federal government built the dam doesn’t give the public the right to access the lake or your land. The purpose of the lakes is to protect the City of Lancaster and the Town of Kershaw and everyone downstream from flooding damage, and to catch soil and stop it from filling up the streams and ponds below. The lakes were not built to give people places to fish, boat or swim.  Obviously, these are nice benefits, but those are not part of the purposes of the lakes.


You are the only person who can prosecute for trespassing or damage to your property. Call the Sheriff's Office (911 for emergency, 283-4136 for information/ non-emergency) or the SC Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officers (game wardens) at 1-800-922-5431. They will tell you how you should post your land and respond to crimes such as trespassing or vandalism. Conservation Officers can also charge people with violations of fishing and hunting laws.

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