By Dari McBride, President Oconee Chamber of Commerce


South Carolina’s Upstate lakes have some of the most beautiful water in the country. While many factors contribute to the clarity and cleanliness of the water, it is often assumed that location and the natural order of lake formation are the main factors.  These do make a difference, but they are not the only difference makers. 

Water coming off the mountains is filtered and purified naturally. However, does it stay that way? Who is monitoring the water as the region grows and expands to accommodate more people, business and industry?

The fact is a staggering number of organizations, agencies and citizens are advocating and overseeing the protection of this vast natural resource. While many are government or institutional entities that are paid for their services, others are volunteer and nonprofit organizations staffed and encouraged by participation and support from local residents.

Here are some of the organizations focused on water quality in the Upstate.

Friends Of Lake Keowee Society (FOLKS)

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 FOLKS members participate in an Adopt-a-Stream certification class at Clemson University. Photo by Dale Wilde

 In 1993, FOLKS became one of the first organizations to acknowledge the need to monitor water quality. Founded as a non-profit corporation to focus on lake issues, one of the first things FOLKS did was test water quality on a regular basis. It operated an in-house testing laboratory for over 25 years — gathering, recording and reporting its data. In 2020, FOLKS adopted the Citizen Science Program protocol put forth by Adopt-a-Stream and began testing stream water at the point that it feeds into the lake rather than in the main body of water. They continue to support Adopt-a-Stream efforts by providing financial support for stream testing kits and scholarship money to Walhalla High School, where future generations are being trained on the importance of protecting water sources. FOLKS also has two certified instructors, several certified monitors and a host of volunteers that support Adopt-a-Stream.

Over the past nearly three decades, FOLKS has made a significant impact on the Lake Keowee Watershed using grant funds obtained from Keowee-Toxaway Habitat Enhancement and the South Carolina Department of Environment Control, as well as through water quality monitoring programs and regular lake litter cleanups.

FOLKS served as a stakeholder for the Lake Keowee re-licensing and is currently serving on the stakeholder committee for the Bad Creek re-licensing. It was the founding member of the Lake Keowee Source Water Protection Team. For more information on joining FOLKS, check out

 Lake Keowee Source Water Protection Team

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This team was created in 2017 as a nonprofit corporation and is funded by Duke Energy. Its members represent a diverse group of stakeholders who work to develop and implement a long-term plan to protect the Lake Keowee reservoir. They focus on identifying and monitoring water quality of lakes Keowee and Jocassee. Their main objective is to undertake activities that protect, maintain and improve water quality by addressing existing water quality issues and identifying potential problems.

 One concentrated area is the repair and replacement of septic systems. The initial focus was on the Cane Creek and Little Cane Creek watershed as it exhibited a higher concentration of bacteria. In November 2020, the Water Protection Team was awarded its first nonpoint source implementation grant, and, since that time, 19 septic systems within the grant area and 15 septic systems outside the grant area have been repaired or replaced.  Each of these projects has a direct, positive impact on Lake Keowee.

If any residents have or know of septic systems needing repair or replacement, they can find out more information at

 For more general information and to keep up with the efforts of the LKSWPT, visit:


Clemson University

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The University’s Cooperative Extension Service has a Water Resources Team that consists of extension specialists, associates and agents from around the state working together to address water quantity and quality issues. This team provides research-based information in the form of community outreach and education, public involvement opportunities and in-depth trainings and workshops to the citizens of South Carolina. The common goal of these services is to foster stewardship and sustainable management of water resources for current and future generations.

  You can find more information about Clemson Extension’s upcoming events at:

In Anderson and Pickens counties, Clemson has a consortium that focuses on educating the campus community about stormwater issues.

However, since water does not necessarily follow county boundaries, the consortium frequently works with partners and residents throughout watersheds surrounding the lakes and rivers to educate on best practices to prevent pollutants— sediment, nutrients, bacteria and litter—from entering the system.

A direct link to the Anderson and Pickens Counties Stormwater Partners Consortium is:

 SC Adopt-a-Stream

As mentioned, Adopt-a-Stream is a statewide, volunteer monitoring program that offers free training workshops on how to collect stream data. Volunteers have a greater awareness of water quality and nonpoint source pollution after attending a workshop. They also learn about the tools used to collect water quality data and how to share that data. For more information on the program visit https:\\\public\watershed\scaas/index.html The group is always looking for volunteers and participants.

Upstate Forever

Upstate Forever was founded in 1998 as a nonprofit conservation organization to protects critical lands, waters and the unique character of Upstate South Carolina. 

The organization works with landowners, communities and local stakeholders to balance growth with protection of our natural resources. Part of that effort involves clean water projects. To learn more, visit:

Anderson Area Chamber of Commerce Water Resources Committee

For over two decades, this group, made up of professionals and leaders from a wide range of organizations, has come together to educate themselves and develop initiatives for protecting Lake Hartwell and conserving water.

Members keep up to date on Lake Hartwell levels, the cleanliness of the lake and the potability of its water. The public is invited to meetings that always include an educational component designed to help members understand the role water plays in both economic development and quality of life.

For more details visit:

Advocates for Quality Development

Founded in 2006, AQD focuses on Pickens and Oconee counties, seeking to protect the watershed, the environment and the public. Its stated goal is “to support projects, legislation and development that enhance the overall quality of life for residents while monitoring compliance with the letter and spirit of local ordinances.” 

This is a paid membership-based organization that focuses on monitoring, education and awareness, and advocating for change. For more information visit:

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