The South Fork of the Edisto River has been ranked sixth out of the 10 most endangered American rivers in 2014.
According to a press release by the nonprofit conservation organization American Rivers, this blackwater river was included on its list because of excessive water withdrawals. The release further states that agriculture withdrawals take up to 35 percent of the river's flow during the summer months.
“The Edisto River quenches our thirst and restores our soul,” stated Friends of the Edisto President Tim Rogers in a press release. “Balancing the needs of agriculture and other users is sustainable. Condemning the Edisto for a factory spigot is unacceptable.”
Most recently, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control approved Walter Farms' water withdrawal registration of up to 805 million gallons of water monthly from the river. The Friends of the Edisto then filed a lawsuit, and the farm, its main crop being potatoes, agreed to cut its initial surface withdrawal registration in half along with a variety of other terms in efforts to protect the river.
Due to the recent controversy of that particular surface water withdrawal request, conservationists and residents have called for the state law to be strengthened.
The South Carolina Surface Water Withdrawal, Permitting, Use, and Reporting Act was passed in 2010 but doesn't limit withdrawals during times of extreme drought.
It also doesn't require public notice or meetings for new agricultural withdrawal registrations, which was a sticking point with many conservationists.
S.C. Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, has proposed a bill that would require large agricultural businesses to file for a permit, which is stricter than a registration for water withdrawal.
Ann Timberlake, executive director of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina, said they're “very serious” about using this ranking to trigger a positive conversation of ways to protect this state's rivers. She said she thinks that having the river included on this list is a good thing in a way because it sparks awareness to the need to work on long-term solutions to preserve the Edisto.
“The Edisto has such widespread support all across South Carolina. It begins and ends in South Carolina. It's our river,” Timberlake said. “The Edisto wouldn't have made this list if it wasn't such an iconic, beautiful river.”
Amy Banton is the digital news editor for the Aiken Standard.