Public calls on legislators to fight for Edisto River

Staff photo by Derrek Asberry
Nearly 500 people gathered at the information session on the registration process for agricultural surface water withdrawals from the Edisto River during Tuesday's meeting at Aiken Electric Cooperative.
Staff photo by Derrek Asberry Nearly 500 people gathered at the information session on the registration process for agricultural surface water withdrawals from the Edisto River during Tuesday's meeting at Aiken Electric Cooperative.

Emily Guess was one of many residents at a meeting on Tuesday who called for legislators to fight against a current law that will allow a potato farm in Windsor to pull massive amounts of water from the Edisto River.

Nearly 500 patrons gathered in the Aiken Electric Cooperative building to attend the information session hosted by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The Department called the meeting to discuss the process of registering agricultural surface water withdrawals after public outcry arose to save the river from Walther Farms – a farm that received SCDHEC approval last spring to withdraw up to 805 million gallons of water per month from the South Edisto.

Members of the audience applauded when Guess made a comment that threatened the seat of current legislators.

“Legislators in this room, hear my voice: if you don't get rid of this law, we will get rid of you,” Guess said.

Despite the outcry from the public, SCDHEC representatives said Walther Farms is currently within its rights to seek approval to pull the large amount of water.

Bureau Chief David Wilson added that SCDHEC's role in the matter is limited.

“Please understand that we don't have the ability to rewrite the law,” Wilson said. “DHEC's role is narrowly defined in this instance.”

Wilson added that, after Walther Farms' first request last spring, SCDHEC conducted a safe yield analysis at the withdrawal point. The analysis checked out, which led to the department green-lighting the first registration.

The farm issued a second request in November that is currently under review.

No one representing Walther Farms spoke at the meeting.

The Aiken Standard has made several attempts previously to contact the owner of the farm, but phone calls and emails seeking comment have not been returned.

After the public called on legislators to take action, S.C. Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, stated that he will work to protect South Carolina's rivers.

“I have fished in, hunted near and paddled on the South Edisto River. I intend to do all I can to reach a resolution that protects South Carolina's rivers for generations to come,” Young told the Standard in an email.

S.C. Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, was also in attendance and addressed the audience during the meeting. Taylor suggested that a flow meter be purchased to gain more information on the river.

“We have to approach this as a step-by-step basis and get all the information we can,” Taylor said. “We need to look at the regulations and get some real data so we have something to bring to the table.”

Several interest groups, such as Friends of the Edisto, were also in attendance. Group member Tim Rogers also called for legislators to take action.

“On behalf of Friends of the Edisto, I call on the leaders of our communities and state to work with us to save our Edisto as we know it. That will reflect the will of the overwhelming majority of our people,” Rogers said.

Derrek Asberry is a beat reporter with the Aiken Standard. He joined the paper in June. He is originally from Vidalia, Ga., and a graduate of Georgia Southern University. Follow him on Twitter @DerrekAsberry.

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