Originally created 04/28/04

Water report urges state to enter deal



AIKEN - South Carolina should immediately enter a compact with Georgia and the federal government that defines how the neighboring states share the Savannah River the provider of water to countless industries and cities on either side according to the final draft of a water law report Gov. Mark Sanford will unveil today.

The report, the first comprehensive review of the Palmetto State’s water laws in two decades, says South Carolina would be well served to clear up any legal tangles with Georgia now, while the issue isn’t strained by drought.

Splitting up usable water in the river, which runs for about 200 miles between the two states, is the crux of any compact, the report states. The issue is complicated, though, because the amount of available water in the river depends on how much treated wastewater can be discharged without violating water quality laws.

Georgia uses the vast majority of the river's legal capacity to handle wastewater through discharges from industrial and municipal treatment facilities in Augusta and Savannah, states the report, which was compiled by legal and environmental experts and by members of the committee.

"This was not a significant issue as long as South Carolina was relatively undeveloped compared to Georgia," the report states. "Now, however, South Carolina’s Savannah River communities are growing rapidly and maximum loads are being set for the river in both state and federal law.

"South Carolina must assure that it has access to its fair share."Water transfers to communities outside the Savannah River basin also must be addressed.

Greenville, Beaufort and Jasper counties are permitted to suck 210 million gallons of water per day from the Savannah, while Georgia cities outside the river basin take none, though there are fears Atlanta officials have an interest.

"This issue is a particular point of contention in time of drought when users in the (Savannah River) basin feel impacted by those who take water out of the basin," the report states.

The report repeatedly stresses that South Carolina act fast, given that it emerged from a five-year drought in 2002 and might be entering another round now, experts say.

The governor is scheduled to discuss the report at a news conference today.

One member of the report committee questioned why he hadn’t done so sooner, seeing that Mr. Sanford was given a rough draft in January."Nobody's seen the light of it yet," said Frank E. Willis, the mayor of Florence. "So how serious is it? Doesn’t appear to be that important."The governor’s spokesman, Will Folks, said that Mr. Sanford had received only rough drafts before today and that negotiations with Georgia would hopefully start within weeks.

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