WHERE WE STAND: Lines are Drawn in the Battle of the Edisto
Tim Rogers, President, Friends of the Edisto
It seems there is precious little room for compromise in the looming battle over South Carolina’s most vital natural resource: water.
You would think the state’s decision-makers could easily agree South Carolina needs a balanced policy that protects the public interest in conserving our water resources. They are certainly the most distinctive feature of the beauty of our natural environment. They create unparalleled recreational opportunities. They also facilitate our state’s agricultural bounty and enable our thriving manufacturing industrial plant. Indeed, of course, water is the essential element of our life and our way of life.
Four years ago, South Carolina lawmakers enacted important legislation requiring permitting for withdrawal of surface waters from our state’s rivers and lakes. But in doing so, they left a serious loophole: surface water withdrawal for agricultural use was exempted from permitting requirements. As a result, new applications for withdrawals for agricultural use are essentially unregulated. Large amounts of surface water are available for the asking. Never mind the potentially catastrophic results to the source, even if that means draining dry the river’s in-stream flow!
The realization of the impact of this misguided policy hit home last year when a large farming operation set out to appropriate huge amounts of surface water from the South Fork Edisto River in Aiken County. When Friends of the Edisto filed a legal challenge, there were no legal standards to assert. We were able to negotiate a settlement to substantially mitigate damage to the river, but what about the next time?
The South Carolina Legislature can repair the Surface Water Withdrawal Act. Representative James Smith, a member of the Board of Friends of the Edisto, has drafted legislation to remove the agricultural exemption from the law. He is working right now to secure co-sponsors and build support for his bill in the state House of Representatives. A similar bill has been offered in the Senate by Senator Chip Campsen.
Unfortunately, some in the state’s agribusiness establishment, notably the South Carolina Farm Bureau, resolutely oppose any change in the law, and have mounted a massive campaign to maintain the status quo.
The South Carolina Legislature will decide whether the Edisto River and the other rivers in our state can survive. Friends of the Edisto will continue to advocate for reform of the law and conservation of our beautiful iconic Edisto River.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
JOIN Friends of the Edisto (FRED) today! FRED needs your membership and your financial support to fight the Battle of the Edisto!
SPEAK OUT to your Representative in the State House! Ask him/her to support Rep. James Smith’s bill to conserve our rivers. Don’t know your Representative? Call or email FRED and we’ll help - our contact information is at the bottom of this page.
KEEP UP through FRED’s website and FRED’s Facebook page.
SOUTH CAROLINA RIVERS FOREVER is a coalition of SC conservation organizations and concerned citizens banded together to reform the SC Surface Water Withdrawal Act. Visit SC Rivers Forever at their website and their Facebook page to support this state-wide effort. All South Carolina rivers are threatened, and all will benefit from this common-sense reform of our flawed statute.
THANKS! The Edisto River and all South Carolina rivers need their friends now more than ever!
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Credits: Photo of river boating scene at top of page by Kim Kim Foster-Tobin, The State Newspaper.