Potato farm offers to reduce amount of river withdrawal

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An offer from a Michigan-based potato farm company to halve the amount of water it will suck from the Edisto Ri­ver’s South Fork hasn’t gotten the thumbs-up from some South Carolina conservationists.

According to state Agri­culture Commissioner Hugh Weathers, Walther Farms agreed to change its plan to siphon billions of gallons of water annually from the river to irrigate a 3,000-acre potato farm in Aiken County. The company would drill wells to replace some of the surface water draws with groundwater, Weathers said.

“(Conservationists’) concerns were heard, and the situation that has been
presented is drastically different,” the commissioner said.

Friends of the Edisto, a river advocacy group, isn’t dropping a lawsuit challenging Walther Farms’ water withdrawal registration and wants more time to conduct environmental studies on effects of water withdrawal on the Edisto, said Tim Rogers, a lawyer for the group.

The farm followed Depart­ment of Health and Environ­men­tal Control policy by registering its surface water withdrawal. Because a 2010 water law exempts agriculture from certain statutes, no public notice was given and DHEC performed its only required test – a “safe yield” analysis that determines
the amount of water that can be safely withdrawn without significant ecological impact.

“We’re still very concerned about this whole
project and about several aspects of the project,” Rogers said.

Weathers said the company also offered to install a water meter at the river intake site, stop harvesting trees near the river to provide a natural buffer and triple conservation easements on the farm property. Walther Farms will cancel its pending registration to draw water for another farm in Barnwell County and use groundwater instead, Weathers said.

Walther Farms did not respond to a voicemail left for an executive Thursday.

The potato farm is the first new site approved for withdrawals since the 2010 law took effect, and it has sparked a controversy over the state’s protection of its water sources.

John Bass, who lives in Kit­chings Mill, S.C., across from the farm’s water intake site, said this issue cannot be settled until the state tightens the law and requires more than a safe yield analysis for agriculture.

“That is what will ultimately protect all the streams and rivers in South Caro­lina,” said Bass, who has worked for DHEC and the state Agriculture Depart­ment. “Even if they negotiate something, we have to continue pushing to
change the rules and regulations.”

State Sen. Chip Campsen, the chairman of the Senate Fish, Game and Forestry Committee, plans to introduce a bill Tuesday that would require farms planning to draw significant amounts of water to apply for a permit. This would require more environmental tests and contingencies for low-water levels, he said.

Campsen, who worked on the water law, said the Walther Farms controversy underscores the need to revisit it.

“It’s certainly a real-life example that has energized and motivated a whole lot of people,” he said.

Weathers said the dispute has put on hold some farm-related investments in the state.

“South Carolina needs to have a reputation as a business investment, friendly state for agriculture. This whole situation has hurt that,” he said.

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bob0142 01/17/14 - 06:39 am
They are trying to light

They are trying to light candles in a rainstorm if they are looking for any reason from the environmentalists, those kooks are fanatical as they come.

Bodhisattva 01/17/14 - 08:54 am
Yeah boy, those rural South

Yeah boy, those rural South Carolinians are as liberal as they come. Head on up to West Virginia and get some of that good mountain water. Or head on over to the Edisto and feed the family a few meals of catfish a week. It'll be even better tasting with all of the fertilizer runoff. Don't pay any attention to those "kook environmentalists". Happy eatin' Bob.

Fish advisory Edisto River-entire river.
Black Crappie 1 meal a week
Blue Catfish 1 meal a month
Bluegill 1 meal a week
Channel Catfish DO NOT EAT ANY
Flathead Catfish DO NOT EAT ANY
Redbreast Sunfish 1 meal a week
Redear Sunfish 1 meal a week
Bowfin (Mudfish) DO NOT EAT ANY
Chain Pickerel DO NOT EAT ANY
Largemouth Bass DO NOT EAT ANY

Sweet son
Sweet son 01/17/14 - 12:32 pm
Why not deep wells? Guess it costs a lot more than the 'free'

water in the Edisto. Most area row crop farmers depend on deep wells for center pivot irrigation for yields that make their farming efforts profitable.

bob0142 01/17/14 - 07:06 pm
My comment was more aimed at

My comment was more aimed at things like shutting off a farmer from bunches of his land for some owl or shutting down bridge work because of some stupid sparrow or something. But that was some good emotion and hyperbole there, I found it quite entertaining.

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