ALC closes the first conservation easement in the City of Aiken’s Upper Shaws Creek Voluntary Conservation Program

In 2019, ALC and other conservation stakeholders partnered with the City of Aiken to create protections for Upper Shaws Creek, a critical source of nearly 20% of Aiken’s drinking water and sole source of municipal water for the citizens who reside in the northern reaches of the city. The City has invested greatly in this area: many years ago it purchased Mason’s Branch Reservoir as a source of backup water for Shaws Creek, and in 2020 it purchased the 2500 acres of undeveloped land (called the Brunswick Tract) surrounding the reservoir. In addition, the City has authorized construction of a new water treatment plant (WTP) to replace the antiquated one that processes the water from Shaws Creek.

Approximately 45 acres of the northeast portion of the Houck property is protected by a conservation easement donated to ALC

The City created the Upper Shaws Creek Voluntary Conservation Program as an effort to encourage upstream private landowners adjacent to Shaws Creek and its tributaries to donate conservation easements to either the Upper Savannah River Land Trust or ALC. As part of that effort, the City generated a list of the Top 100 Priority land parcels to be preserved.

Don Houck and his partners owned one of the properties identified in the priority list. Situated on Long Branch, a tributary that empties directly into Shaws Creek at the City-owned Reynolds Pond, a portion of the property flanks the tributary and its wetlands. To our delight, Houck, a long-term friend of ALC and a proponent of conservation measures, agreed to place a strict conservation easement on the portions of the property adjacent to, and draining into, Long Branch and its wetlands; indeed, it was the first voluntary easement to be consummated under the City’s program.

The property as a whole has not been developed, and the only structures on the property are utility easements. The Houck Long Branch easement does not permit the construction of any structures or roads with pervious surfaces and calls for, among other things, Houck and ALC to work with the power companies to install erosion control mechanisms to protect the sensitive Long Branch wetlands. The donation of the conservation easement was completed in September of 2021, and efforts are underway to develop appropriate erosion controls with the power company.

It should be noted that the 2500-acre Brunswick Tract, the Houck Long Branch preserve, and other City-owned parcels like Reynolds Pond are only the beginning of the effort to create a corridor of green infrastructure along Upper Shaws Creek to protect the quality of the City’s drinking water serviced by the Shaws Creek WTP. However; the protections offered by these conservation efforts extend beyond the users of water from Upper Shaws Creek. These properties also rest atop the overlapping recharge areas for the region’s four major aquifers, providing critical protection for the quality of groundwater throughout the region.

Efforts continue to preserve additional tracts on the Upper Shaws Creek corridor. ALC is currently negotiating with owners of significant properties adjacent to the Brunswick Tract and Mason’s Branch to establish conservation easements. Stay tuned!