Lake Bowen Frequently Asked Questions


  • Why is the Lake Bowen Irrigation Plan necessary?

    Citizens of the Spartanburg area depend on Lake Bowen for drinking water. Protecting the quality and quantity of this source is critical to ensure that current and future generations have high quality drinking water, as well as opportunities for outdoor recreation and education. That protection begins with the area around the lake – its watershed – and the land use practices that go on there, such as irrigation.

  • How does irrigation impact water quantity in the lakes that serve as our drinking water supply?

    More significantly than you probably imagine. The more than 400 existing irrigation pumps located on Spartanburg Water lakes have the capacity to pump out approximately 13 million gallons of water per day. That’s nearly 100 million gallons per week withdrawn from the community’s drinking water supply. In growing communities like Spartanburg, preserving water resources is an essential goal. Anytime the region is experiencing a drought, this amount of water withdrawal is of particular concern.

  • What about water quality – how does irrigation impact it?

    Residents around the lake obviously have a significant interest in protecting water quality. The homes around Lake Bowen are served by septic tanks and over-saturation of the soil from irrigation practices can lead to runoff of household and human waste into the lake. This is unhealthy for all those who live around the lake and for recreational users, and is a threat to the entire community’s drinking water supply.

  • Does the irrigation plan totally eliminate irrigation withdrawals from the lake?

    Not at all; the plan merely aims to better manage withdrawals. Under the plan, property owners adjacent to Lake Bowen who wish to withdraw for irrigation purposes will apply for a permit that allows residential-only irrigation, with a one acre limit on the cumulative total coverage area of all irrigated zones. Spartanburg Water conducted a cost of service study to determine appropriate program fees to administer the irrigation program.

  • Is there a fee for the irrigation permit?

    Yes, a fee study was undertaken to determine the amount needed to support the cost of the program. Spartanburg Water relies on user fees, not tax revenue, to operate and provide safe drinking water and sound wastewater treatment services to the Spartanburg community. The fee for new or currently unregistered irrigation systems on the lake involves an initial application fee of $115, and an annual renewal fee of $40. Irrigation systems currently registered will be assessed only a $40 annual renewal fee.

  • Is irrigation affected by water restrictions?

    Yes, whenever Spartanburg Water deems it necessary to declare water restrictions, permitted irrigation systems around the lake will be expected to abide by the water restrictions.

  • When did the Lake Bowen Irrigation Plan take effect?

    January 1, 2010

  • Are irrigation systems connected to the public water supply affected when water restrictions are declared?

    Yes, any future water restrictions would also be in place for public water supply customers throughout Spartanburg County. Residents who irrigate their lawns through metered connections to the public drinking water supply are billed directly for the amount of water they consume, generally making them take care in the amount of water they use because their water bill goes up or down based on usage.

  • What is the 827’ MSL Contour Line?
    • It is the elevation above Mean Sea Level (MSL) that constitutes the property line for Spartanburg Water around the entire circumference of Lake Bowen.
    • The Lake Bowen reservoir was created in 1960 to be a drinking water source for the Spartanburg community.   During 1958-61, Spartanburg Water System purchased property along the South Pacolet River up to the 827’ MSL contour line.
    • Many people are familiar with establishing a property boundary through meets and bounds, but using a MSL elevation is a more common method when bodies of water and flood levels are identified. 
  • Why does 827' move?

    Unless the physical condition of the land changes, either through erosion or grading, the original property line for Spartanburg Water at Lake Bowen does not move. The 827’ MSL contour was established by professional survey at the time Spartanburg Water purchased the parcels of property that makes up Lake Bowen (circa 1958-1961). This was accomplished using the “Sea Level Datum of 1929”, the standard for all surveys during that time period.

  • What is the “Datum of 1929" and what does it mean to me?

    The Sea Level Datum of 1929 was the vertical control datum established for vertical control surveying in the United States of America by the General Adjustment of 1929. The datum was used to measure elevation (altitude) above, and depression (depth) below mean sea level (MSL).

    Mean Sea Level was measured at 26 tide gauges, 21 in the United States and 5 in Canada. The datum was defined by the observed heights of mean sea level at the 26 tide gauges and by the set of elevation of all bench marks resulting from the adjustment. The adjustment required a total 66,315 miles (106,724 km) of leveling with 246 closed circuits and 25 circuits at sea level.

    Since the Sea Level Datum of 1929 was a hybrid model, it was not a pure model of mean sea level, the geoid, or any other equipotential surface. Therefore, it was renamed the National Geodetic Vertical Datum of 1929 (NGVD 29) in 1973. NGVD 29 was superseded by the North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NAVD 88), based upon an equipotential definition and a readjustment, although many cities and US Army Corps of Engineers projects with established data continued to use the older datum. 

    • The 827’ MSL Contour line serves as the property line for Spartanburg Water owned land which was plotted using the Sea Level Datum of 1929. This was the Datum used by Spartanburg Water to acquire/purchase all of the original property was purchased around Lake Bowen (circa 1958 – 1961). Additionally, the Sea Level Datum of 1929 would be used as the basis for determining the location of the Spartanburg Water property line today.
    • Using the Sea Level Datum of 1929 as the basis for establishing the 827’ MSL contour line, the property line for Spartanburg Water does not move unless the surface of the land has been altered by mechanical excavation or large scale erosion. From Wikipedia


  • Haven’t there been changes and modifications to surveying datum since 1958?

    The Sea Level Datum of 1929 was renamed the National Geodetic Vertical Datum of 1929 (NGVD 29) in 1973, it was superseded by the North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NGVD 88). However, when determining the location of a property boundary that was established prior to the NGVD 88 it is critical that the datum used in the original land transfer be used. Using only the NGVD 88 datum to determine the 827’ MSL contour line as it was established in 1958, could lead to erroneous findings.

  • My deed and plat show a property line other than the MSL 827’ contour line. Which property line is correct?
    • The property line for Spartanburg Water (the 827’ MSL contour line) was established at the formation of the lake relative to the water’s edge and adjoining lands, in many cases this was completed prior to the creation of the adjoining residential lots. In some instances surveyors working specifically for an adjoining landowner will identify a property line connecting the lower lot property pins to create a lower (lake side) property line. If the plat with a lower property line is in conflict with the 827’ MSL, the 827’ MSL will prevail as the property line for Spartanburg Water, even if the other plat is recorded on public record. Spartanburg Water has original documentation that demonstrates the formation of the 827’ MSL contour line as the boundary for Spartanburg Water.
    • In the event you as an adjoining landowner have a need to survey your property, it is critical to make sure the independent surveyor locates and confirms the accurate location of the 827’ MSL contour line using the NGVD 29 datum. Relying on the accuracy of existing data (historical plats and deed descriptions) or using the NAVD 88 datum may lead to errors and an inaccurate survey.
  • What if my house or a portion of my house is below the 827’ MSL contour line?
    • When someone places anything on property they do not own, it is viewed as an encroachment. Spartanburg Water addresses all encroachments when they are identified. To address existing residential structure encroachments, Spartanburg Water has created an Encroachment Agreement. This agreement when executed by both Spartanburg Water and the adjoining landowner gives the landowner an easement that allows the encroachment to remain in place “as is”. The adjoining landowner can maintain, repair and enjoy continued access to the encroachment.
    • However, Spartanburg Water will not allow additional construction or renovations that increase the size of the encroachment in any way.
  • What if the encroachment is not my house or a portion of my house? What if my garage, driveway or other outbuilding is encroaching on Spartanburg Water property?

    Spartanburg Water has developed an encroachment agreement for most situations involving an existing encroachment that includes garages, driveways or other outbuildings that may have been accidentally placed below the 827’ MSL contour line. Spartanburg Water also has a permitting process whereby adjoining landowners can apply for and receive permits to place other encroachments on Spartanburg Water property. However, not all encroachments are allowed and in some cases Spartanburg Water would require the encroachment to be removed, or relocated on to the adjoining landowners property. Fences are one example of an encroachment Spartanburg Water would not allow. All encroachments are evaluated on a case by case basis and you can contact the Watershed staff or Michael Clardy, Property and Risk Manager if you have specific questions.

  • My property slopes and I would like to create an area that is flatter so that I can enjoy activities more. May I excavate and regrade my property above the 827’ MSL and Spartanburg Water’s property below the 827’ MSL contour to improve the recreational amenity of the property?

    Spartanburg Water System does not allow grading, or any activity below the 827’ MSL elevation that would alter the location of the existing 827’ MSL contour. The addition of fill would decrease the property owned by Spartanburg Water System and cutting the grade adjacent to and above the 827’ MSL contour would likely increase the property owned by SWS by moving the 827’ MSL contour.  

  • Why does Spartanburg Water care if I place “movable” items (lawn chairs, picnic tables, playground equipment) below the 827’ MSL contour line, those items could be picked up and moved at any time, and it doesn’t interfere with Spartanburg Water’s operation of the reservoir?

    Spartanburg Water System requires a permit for all activities below the 827’ MSL. This process allows a clear understanding between SWS and the adjacent landowner on whether the planned activities would impact water quality or be inconsistent with the source water protection goals for the reservoir. 

  • Why does Spartanburg Water come to my property and look for encroachments?

    Spartanburg Water does not come to your property to specifically look for encroachments or violations of existing rules. Spartanburg Water will routinely evaluate the shoreline to assess all the land conditions for changes. Spartanburg Water also visits property to address permit requests and it is a matter of efficient operations to evaluate the existing conditions while there. It is standard operating practice for Spartanburg Water to identify encroachments  or potential changes/activities on its property and address them with the adjoining landowner when they are identified.

  • What if my dock, boat or other personal property is damaged by one of Spartanburg Water’s trees falling on them, is Spartanburg Water responsible for my damages?

    No. Every adjoining landowner must apply for and receive a permit to place any item below the 827’ MSL contour line, this includes all docks, boatlifts, watercraft, etc. The adjoining landowner accepts all risks for loss or damage to their personal property when it is placed on Spartanburg Water property. There is language in all permit documents informing the adjoining landowner that Spartanburg Water is not responsible for any damage to personal property when it is placed below the 827’ MSL contour line.