5. Edisto River

Excessive agricultural water withdrawals are putting water supply, water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and recreation at risk.

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Tell the South Carolina legislature to pass H.3564 to amend the state’s surface water law to make it fair for all water users and to protect the health and integrity of the state’s rivers for future generations. Read more

Photo credit: Tim Palmer

Location: South Carolina

The Edisto River is one of South Carolina’s most popular rivers for paddling, fishing, and outdoor fun. It’s also the state’s most heavily used river for irrigation, and excessive agricultural water withdrawals are threatening wildlife, recreation, and the water supplies of other users.

While the state’s permitting process requires industrial and municipal water users to meet requirements to safeguard river health and clean water, large agribusinesses get a pass. The South Carolina House of Representatives must enact H.3564 this year to end this unfair exemption so that the Edisto, and all of the state’s rivers, can continue to provide sustainable water supplies for all, while supporting river health and recreation.

The River

The longest free-flowing blackwater river in the United States, the Edisto winds from spring-fed headwaters in the Sandhills of central South Carolina, through the heart of floodplain forests in the Coastal Plain, to the rich estuary of the Ashepoo/Combahee/Edisto (ACE) Basin. It is an intimate river along most of its length— a place where paddlers enjoy solitude and close-up views of diverse plants and wildlife. No dams block the Edisto’s flow; migratory fish are free to run its entire 250 mile length, from ocean to headwaters.

In the heart of the ACE Basin, freshwater arteries sustain one of the most acclaimed natural areas found on the East Coast, where more than 130,000 acres of land have been protected through public/private partnerships. While the river’s character changes along its path, there is one constant— the tannin-stained Edisto waters— the lifeblood of this unique region.

The Threat

This year’s listing of the Edisto River follows the South Fork of the Edisto’s appearance in the 2014 America’s Most Endangered Rivers ® report. Excessive agricultural water withdrawals continue to be a major threat to the Edisto and other rivers across the state. While municipal and industrial water users are required to get withdrawal permits, South Carolina’s surface water law does not require permits for agricultural water users— this means that the state cannot require reduced water use during drought periods to protect the river, water quality, small farmers, and downstream users.

When the South Carolina Surface Water Withdrawal, Permitting, Use, and Reporting Act was passed in 2010, the agricultural exemption from state permitting was a victory for industrial-scale – not traditional – farms in South Carolina. At the time, lawmakers were led to believe that the relaxed measures would help traditional South Carolina farmers. No one envisioned the agricultural exemption from permitting would be exploited by industrial-scale, out-of-state agribusinesses that would use enough water to supply a medium-sized city. However, that’s what is happening, increasing uncertainty for downstream water users, and putting the Edisto and other rivers at increased risk.

What Must Be Done

This year, a bipartisan group of cosponsors introduced H.3564 in the South Carolina legislature — a bill that will end the exemption of large agricultural water withdrawals from permitting. The bill will protect South Carolina farmers by allowing existing agricultural registrations to remain in effect, and it will require new industrial-scale agricultural water users to receive withdrawal permits like all other users. H.3564 will also ensure that the public is informed of all new water withdrawal permit applications before a decision is made, that all new water users must curtail water withdrawals during low flow periods so that minimum flows are protected to safeguard clean water and wildlife, and that all new large water users develop water supply contingency plans.

This commonsense law does more than protect our rivers and existing water users. It ensures that South Carolina can provide security for new, traditional farms. While the state seeks to attract new agriculture, we must make sure it is done responsibly.

The South Carolina legislature must pass H.3564 to amend the state’s surface water law to make it fair for all water uses— drinking water, industrial, and agricultural— and to protect the health and integrity of the state’s rivers for future generations.

How You Can Help

Tell the South Carolina legislature to amend the state’s surface water law to make it fair for all water users and to protect the health and integrity of the state’s rivers for future generations. Take Action »

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