WALTHER: WHERE WE STAND
January 28, 2014
From Tim Rogers
President, Friends of the Edisto
Friends of the Edisto is committed to protecting and conserving the Edisto River as we know it: the beautiful, pristine, iconic blackwater treasure that flows freely and binds together our South Carolina home.
The Edisto is more than a river. She is our way of life. She nourishes our landscape and restores our souls. We know that our mission is a long struggle in which no engagement is final, and no battle stays won. We must remain focused, we must constantly renew our efforts, we must learn how to negotiate the complex realities of co-existence between the needs of our people and the requisites of our natural environment.
FRED filed suit to challenge the gross inadequacies of our statutory law that fails to protect the public’s right to notice and to have input on the fundamental issue of appropriation of the precious waters of the Edisto River.
Our core concern: what steps must be taken to protect the integrity of the River in times of low stream flows? Everyone who knows the Edisto is familiar with these low flows, which are as invariable as the summertime. This critical issue must be addressed, and soon. Increased pressure from large surface water withdrawals obviously adds to the stress on the River, as well as urgency to the need for action while we still have time. Change on this vital issue requires change in our public policy, change in the law. This change is obviously within the purview of the General Assembly, hopefully galvanized by enlightened leadership from our state-wide elected officials. The law worked against us in our lawsuit. We understood it was going to be very difficult for us to sustain our challenge, much less to achieve our objectives.
The leadership of Walther Farms took the initiative to approach FRED some weeks ago to seek a compromise settlement as to their plans to farm the two sites they have acquired on the Edisto South Fork. They offered to give up a substantial portion of the access to surface water withdrawal (at their first site) for which they had earlier applied and which they had been granted under our very lax current statutory law. They offered to withdraw completely their application for a surface water withdrawal at their second farm site on the South Fork, and to observe a twelve month moratorium on any new application, which would obviously be subject to any changes in the law in the meantime. They offered other concessions on helping to pay the cost and working with USGS to install a stream gage to gather flow data near their property, on contingency planning for low flow episodes, and on buffers between the River and areas of cultivation on their two farms. Each of these concessions are positive and important. Each was the product of hard negotiations memorialized in the binding settlement agreement linked below.
Comparing the value of these concessions with the potential for success in court where the weight of the law was so decidedly against us, we concluded that negotiating this settlement was the wiser course.
Much work remains to be done. We were not successful in convincing Walther to accept a higher standard requiring greater action in response to episodes of extremely low stream flow. The inadequacy of our legal standard which this case has brought to light must be addressed. This case is a wake-up call. FRED will work diligently with the membership of the General Assembly to seek to reform the surface water withdrawal law to protect the rights of the public and to provide desperately needed new protection for our River.
In addition to the legally binding covenants contained in the settlement agreement, Jason and Jeremy Walther have pledged to the leadership of FRED that they will be good stewards of the land and the River. They have pledged to be good neighbors and work with their neighbors to help conserve our precious natural resources. Trust takes time to build. But I have become convinced of their sincerity, and I am impressed by their professional skills. Time will tell, but I will make the effort to give them the benefit of the doubt.
The past four-plus months have been a challenging, exciting time for FRED. Mighty thanks to the people of Aiken County who sounded the alarm, found us and asked for our help. The FRED Board reacted swiftly and we worked diligently to make a difference. We have made many new friends in Wagener, Windsor, Kitchings Mill. We have kept their counsel and their judgment has guided FRED through this process to the end.
Now it is time for the next phase, the next chapter. FRED will continue to work to provide leadership. We can and we must find ways to preserve our Edisto legacy for our children and future generations. Working together, we can make a difference.
For related details and documents see -- https://www.dropbox.com/s/48wly31ab4rd8y3/13206%20FRED%20Notice%20Of%20W...
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Photo Credit: river boating scene at top of page by Kim Kim Foster-Tobin, The State Newspaper