Edisto River Water - A Public Resource Needs Better Protection Under the Law

Track hoe on the bank of the edisto river south carolina

WHERE WE STAND: Protecting Our Edisto
March 12, 2014

By Tim Rogers
President, Friends of the Edisto

South Carolina State Representative James Smith, a strong environmental leader in the state House of Representatives and a FRED Board member, introduced two very important pieces of legislation in the House last week.

H-4794 and H-4817 are in direct response to the crisis triggered by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) acting under the authority of the SC Surface Water Withdrawal Act to enable the giant Michigan-based Walther Farms Company to withdraw some 6.4 billion gallons of water annually, in perpetuity, from the South Fork Edisto River near Kitchings Mill in Aiken County, to irrigate a factory farm cultivation of potatoes and other crops on a 3,000+ acre parcel adjacent to the South Fork.

Friends of the Edisto (FRED) filed suit to oppose the action by SCDHEC and Walther Farms. We faced multiple legal obstacles. The Withdrawal Act exempts agricultural users from permit requirements that apply to everyone else. The Act requires no public notice or opportunity to be heard. Even though FRED brought its legal action quickly upon notice from DHEC of its actions (in response to FRED Freedom-of-Information requests) strict time limits arguably limited access to the Courts because of the passage of time since DHEC’s actions before FRED and the rest of the public found them out.

As reported here previously, FRED settled its lawsuit in order to mitigate the damage to which the South Fork was exposed in Walther’s plans. Nothing in the settlement protected the Edisto against other such incursions or changed the Surface Water Withdrawal Act to provide fundamental protections for the River.

Now we must look to the South Carolina General Assembly to protect our River and reform this law.

H-4794 would provide temporary protection by establishing a moratorium to prohibit DHEC from accepting “registrations” from applicants for surface water withdrawals for agricultural use until December 31, 2015. Applicants could still apply for a permit under the Act, and be subject to the same standards as other applicants; but they could not obtain surface water withdrawal rights in perpetuity – as did the Walthers -- without first securing a permit, including the requirement of public notice and an opportunity for the public to participate in the process.

A moratorium would provide time at least for an opportunity for the Legislature to consider and reform the Surface Water Withdrawal Act and provide added protection for the Edisto and other rivers. But H-4817 would provide simple, fundamental new protection NOW. H-4817 would simply require applicants for surface water withdrawal for agricultural purposes to obtain a permit under the same terms and conditions as apply to other withdrawal applicants. For example, a permit would require a finding that a proposed withdrawal is reasonable, taking into account foreseeable detrimental effects on existing users, navigation, fish and wildlife, and recreational users. Public notice would allow public participation on fundamental issues of protection of the public trust.

Both of these bills are reprinted in this post. FRED is asking you to contact your Representative in the state House of Representatives and your Senator in the South Carolina State Senate and ask their positions on these two important pieces of legislation. We are also asking you to let us know responses from individual Representatives and Senators. Please email your feedback to saveouredisto@gmail.com.

YOU CAN WIN THIS FIGHT. Yes, the hour is late, and yes, there are powerful opponents. But the Edisto has many friends, who will not stand by while our beautiful River is destroyed. It is her friends’ responsibility to educate the public and our leaders about what is at stake: the health and viability and sustainability of our Edisto River.

If you are not a member of FRED, please join us. We need your financial support, and we need the strength of your membership. Please click on the membership tab at the top of this page (our FRED home page).

The Edisto River needs her friends now more than ever.

Thank you!

H-4794:  http://www.scstatehouse.gov/sess120_2013-2014/bills/4794.htm

H-4817:  http://www.scstatehouse.gov/query.php?search=DOC&searchtext=H+4817&categ...

Follow the link to find your Legislators:  http://www.scstatehouse.gov/legislatorssearch.php


Continue following these issues with latest news, commentary, and sources presented on this website under headings - "News & Events" and "Our Facebook Posts"...  Also see the Friends of the Edisto Facebook page..

Credits: Photo of river boating scene at top of page by Kim Kim Foster-Tobin, The State Newspaper.  Cartoon by Robert Ariail - http://robertariail.com/