Friends of the Edisto reaches agreement on water withdrawal planned by potato farm

Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014 4:48 PM
Last updated 5:18 PM
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After months of disputes, a South Carolina river conservation group has reached a legal settlement with a Michigan-based agribusiness over the company’s plans to siphon water from the South Fork of the Edisto River.

Crews work on the piping system necessary to siphon up to 9.6 billion gallons of water needed annually to irrigate the potato farm. A conservation group settled with the farm over the heavy withdrawals.   KIM KIM FOSTER-TOBIN/THE STATE
Crews work on the piping system necessary to siphon up to 9.6 billion gallons of water needed annually to irrigate the potato farm. A conservation group settled with the farm over the heavy withdrawals.

Friends of the Edisto and Walther Farms agreed to concessions offered by the company, including cutting water withdrawals by nearly two-thirds to irrigate two massive potato farms in Aiken and Barnwell counties. Walther planned to draw up to 9 billion gallons of water annually, reducing that amount with groundwater wells.

The agreement does not require limits on Walther’s withdrawals during periods of drought, a concern many citizens voiced citing the narrow South Fork’s tendency to run dry during summer months.

Tim Rogers, a lawyer for Friends of the Edisto, said the group conceded to that request but will continue pushing the state legislation to amend the surface water withdrawal law that exempts agriculture from having a contingency plan for periods of low water flow.

“The Edisto is infamous for the volatility of its water stream, especially in the warmer months,” said Rogers, adding that low flows often coincide with months when water is most needed to irrigate crops.

Walther Farms, who denied repeated media requests during the dispute, broke its silence Tuesday, saying the company values sustainable farming practices.

“The community backlash caught us off guard and affected us personally,” said Jason Walther, CEO of Walther Farms in a news release. “We wanted to take the necessary steps to address each and every fear.”

Following public outcry, Walther invited environmental groups and state agriculture leaders to tour the 3,000-acre farm near Windsor, S.C.

“Our family understands and appreciates the concerns expressed and wants to help demonstrate our commitment to working together as friends to preserve South Carolina’s natural resources now and for future generations,” he said.

Also in the settlement, Walther Farms agreed to install a USGS stream flow gauge near the water intake site, complete a contingency plan for periods of reduced flow including at least one groundwater well and maintain tree buffers to prevent stormwater runoff.

Walther Farms said the concessions amount to changes costing $500,000.

Rogers said the compromise was the result of extensive negotiations and assurances that Walther Farm will protect the Edisto.

“They are very professional farmers and they were sincere in the positions they took,” Rogers said. “I continue to believe it’s important to trust their promises.”

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paulwheeler 01/28/14 - 10:23 pm
Oh cool, now they will just

Oh cool, now they will just deplete the aquifer rather than draining the river. In this day of eating healthy, who needs millions of pounds of potatoes for chips? Bad political decision for whoever got paid to let these people in South Carolina.

grinder48 01/29/14 - 08:24 am

paulwheeler is EXACTLY right. Does anyone really believe there's no relationship between the river and the aquifer? In a Jan 24 article in the Aiken Standard, Walther tried to portray itself as caring because it's a family business. Who cares?! Whether the water is depleted by a "family business" or a corporate farm, the results are the same.

Bulldog 01/29/14 - 10:18 am
Use of water

The use of water to grow food crops is going to get to be a huge issue as the worlds population increases. Agriculture is Georgia's and SC's largest business. The wise use of what water we have and finding new ways to increase crop yields and to save water is at the top of a lot of researchers lists.

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