Originally created 09/29/03

Answers to shortages uncertain



AIKEN - In the never-ending water game, balance is a key theme.

Balance applies to the quality, quantity and, in South Carolina, the source.

After five years of drought, water reserves around the state came dangerously close to running dry before steady rains came last fall - the city of Pickens, for example, was down to a four-day supply at one point.

The drought taught water experts several lessons. For example, the state needs larger reservoirs and more sources of water.

Still, experts say, there's no surefire solution.

"The only source for water is rain," said Bud Badr, the state's chief hydrologist at the Department of Natural Resources, only half-joking. "That's how much we depend on rain."

Also, the state shares its water sources with Georgia and North Carolina, which complicates the situation.

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has put together a Water Law Review Committee to look at the legalities of sharing with the state's neighbors. Of South Carolina's four water basins, only one - the Ashley-Combahee-Edisto basin to the south - doesn't depend on water from outside the state.

The Savannah River basin, which includes the western part of the state, the Great Pee Dee River basin to the east and the Santee/Catawba rivers basin in the midstate all share water with other states.

Dr. Badr is preparing to release an updated statewide water strategy to Mr. Sanford's committee next month. Among other things, it encourages large water users, mainly cities, that rely heavily on groundwater to seek out a surface source, and vice versa.

Many cities turned to well water when small rivers and streams dried up during the drought, but that's starting to change, said Joe Gellici, a hydrologist with DNR.

Today, about 60 percent of the state's water comes from surface sources, which are abundant. There are more than 1,000 watersheds - lakes, streams and rivers - across South Carolina. The state also is rich wi" he added. "You drill a well in the Piedmont and you're lucky to get 10 gallons a minute. The wells in Aiken pump more than 1,000 gallons a minute."

Getting Upstate communities through the next drought will require stricter management of the state's reservoirs, Dr. Badr said, and more tools to collect rainfall.

"If you don't capture that drop of rain within 14 days, it's gone," he said, either to evaporation or to the ocean.

More rain also helps clean the water South Carolina receives from North Carolina, which often comes into South Carolina impure after being handled by cities to the north, Dr. Badr said.

"Sometimes, maybe, (more rain) is the only solution," he said.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 279-6895 or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.