Reform South Carolina's Surface Water Withdrawal Act

WHERE WE STAND
September 5, 2014

By Tim Rogers
President, Friends of the Edisto

Earlier this year, FRED was involved with litigation challenging the issuance of a large surface water withdrawal “registration” from the South Fork Edisto River near Kitchings’ Mill.  The SC Department of Health and Environmental Control issued the “registration” to the Walther Farms Company under the SC Surface Water Withdrawal Act.  It was the first such issuance under the new Act.

Facing overwhelming odds of an adverse outcome in Court, FRED settled the lawsuit and secured important concessions which lessened the impact on the South Fork.  When I announced the settlement, I pledged that FRED would turn its efforts to legislative reform of the Surface Water Withdrawal Act which enabled this “registration.”  Among other problems, withdrawals for agricultural use are exempt from permit requirements which apply to all other withdrawals.  Scrutiny based on concerns for the environment is absent.  There is not even a requirement that the public be notified or have any opportunity to participate in the decision. (For more, see Points of Concern with SC Surface Water Withdrawal Law)

On behalf of FRED and many concerned South Carolinians, SC State Representative James Smith, a FRED Board Member, introduced legislation to require withdrawal applications for agricultural use to be subject to the same permitting process as all other withdrawal applications.  Rep. Smith is preparing to re-introduce the legislation this year.

In the meantime, FRED has been working hard to inform the public about the importance of this measure to the ecological health of the Edisto (and other SC rivers).  We held community workshops at Colleton and Aiken state parks.  Upcoming meetings are planned in Orangeburg on October 18 at our Fall Membership Celebration, and at a public forum on Edisto Island on November 3.  Through our newsletter, our Facebook page and our Website, we are spreading the word.  The FRED Board has a policy working committee to track the issue and make public presentations of FRED policy. We are seeking support from other conservationist organizations, primarily through the Common Agenda of SC Conservation Voters.  American Rivers called special attention to our efforts, designating the South Fork as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers.  Recently, FRED continued our past efforts to reach out to some of the organized sectors of agricultural producers, such as the SC Farm Bureau.

FRED will maintain its focus on this needed fundamental reform of our law.  Without it, the Edisto and other SC rivers will continue to be exposed to unlimited exploitation without consideration of the rights of the public to enjoy this treasured resource which is our legacy, and without consideration of the harm that could be visited on our precious Edisto ecosystem and other rivers.
 
All of us will be called upon to participate in this effort in the upcoming legislative session.  We will keep you informed of the process and how you can help!

Thank you on behalf of our iconic South Carolina Edisto treasure, and for future generations whose legacy is at stake.

Remember, it is our Edisto, our future.

###  Read more from FRED on this issue:  Points of Concern with SC Surface Water Law  &  Response to Farm Bureau & Surface Water Law

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Credits: Photo of river boating scene at top of page by Kim Kim Foster-Tobin, The State Newspaper. 

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