By Sarita Chourey
COLUMBIA – South Carolina is taking steps toward making sure residents may continue to rely on the Savannah River for drinking water.
“Most folks feel like they can turn their tap on and they’ve got water,” said Alvin Taylor, the director of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. “But go down and talk to the people in Hilton Head right now and they’ll tell you that’s not true, because their wells are turning to salt.”
The problem of saltwater intrusion has worsened because of both Georgia and South Carolina’s excessive groundwater withdrawals. Over-pumping is pushing salt water from the Atlantic into the Upper Floridan Aquifer, contaminating wells.
However, more than drinking water is at stake.
Regulators are trying to figure out how much water for an assortment of purposes, including industrial uses, is up for grabs in the Savannah River Basin and seven others.
South Carolina is currently operating from a water plan estimated to be 20 years old.
The Senate subcommittee gave its early blessing to a $2 million request from the S.C. DNR, aimed at taking inventory of the state’s water. House budget writers have already approved the sum, which would be split with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. An effort to secure the funds last year failed.
Once the assessment is in hand, industry representatives and other user groups will develop a state water plan.
“That has got to be done, has got to be done,” emphasized Sen. Yancey McGill, D-Williamsburg, in issuing the panel’s recommendation to approve the $2 million request.
“It’s past time to do a scientific study of what’s available in South Carolina and then have models in place,” Taylor said Thursday. “If we want to bring an industry in somewhere, they can run the model and see how much water’s available and how that’s going to affect water down stream.”
A modern water plan would help officials run the surface water withdrawal permitting program, which the South Carolina General Assembly created in 2010 as a way to halt the free-for-all over the state’s water.
Partly driving discussions was the fact that Georgia and North Carolina have long had such programs in place to essentially keep a multimillion-gallon consumer from hogging such resources.
The debate over South Carolina’s legislation sought to balance the agendas of utilities, farming interests, industrial and manufacturing organizations and other water guzzlers, including golf courses.