South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Charleston Court will hear case on S.C. water laws, draws interest of Wagener residents
January 14th, 2015

BY MAAYAN SCHECHTER

A group of Aiken residents will join environmental lawyers in Charleston today in the hopes that a judge grants a motion for an injunction to continue conversations on South Carolina’s surface water laws.

The South Carolina Environmental Law Project filed a motion in September, requesting the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control overturn parts of the 2010 Surface Water Withdrawal Act regarding the Edisto River.

The Environmental Law Project is a nonprofit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting South Carolina’s environment.

The Act allows industrial farms to withdraw large amounts of water from rivers and streams, including the Edisto River. Under state law, a surface water withdrawal registration can be granted without public notice, based on a calculated safe yield for the river.

“This means that while other landowners are losing their long-standing water rights, industrial agriculture operations are being granted far superior rights with fewer restrictions, despite their use of extreme amounts of water,” the firm’s website said.

In a Charleston County courtroom today, a judge will decide whether to dismiss the motion based on a SCDHEC filing in November.

Wagener resident Doug Busbee, who has been outspoken against the withdrawal act and has worked to protect the Edisto River, said, “We don’t want this case to be dismissed; we want the case to proceed, be heard and tried out to see what’s going on. We also want the farmers of South Carolina to understand there seems to be a shift in the agriculture department’s policy for drawing and attracting these large farms into our state ... These farms are coming in 25 to 50 times bigger now, and how are we supposed to compete against that?”

Busbee sent out an email last week, urging people to help fight a “flawed law” that he said draws out-of-state farmers into South Carolina to directly compete with local farmers for land, natural resources, fertilizer and market share. Busbee referenced the many obstacles the Edisto River has faced in the past year, including that the South Fork of the Edisto recently was ranked sixth out of the 10 most endangered American rivers in 2014. The Friends of the Edisto, a nonprofit aimed at protecting the river, filed a lawsuit last year after SCDHEC approved Walther Farms’ water withdrawal registration of up to 805 million gallons of water monthly from the river. Soon after, the owner of the farm, which specializes in growing potatoes, said it would cut its initial surface withdrawal registration in half, along with a number of other terms to help protect the river.

“Walther Farms are good people – they just have a very large farm compared to our size of the average farm,” Busbee said. “But what we don’t want to do is overdevelop our resources. Over development, in a lot of ways, is worse than no development. We’re seeing our agriculture department turn a blind eye, and our government, to what’s going on.”

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