COLUMBIA - While the controversy over a potato farm on the Edisto River may largely be in the past, a Charleston senator said he expects an uphill fight on a bill that he believes would address many of that case's broader issues.
Walther Farms, a Michigan grower, has come to terms with the environmental group Friends of the Edisto over the company's proposed water withdrawals from the Edisto. Under the agreement, opponents of Walther's large planned potato farm in Aiken County pushed the company to significantly curtail the billions of gallons of water the company planned to draw down for its fields, according to media reports.
But Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, said he worries that there was little or nothing the state could do about Walther's proposed plans. He wants to address that for the future.
Campsen has offered a proposal that he calls a "measured response." In cases where farmers or businesses need to draw down huge amounts of water from rivers, the state would require the company to get a permit, Campsen said. That would trigger public hearings and scrutiny, and if the permit was approved, the company would be required to have a back-up plan in case of drought, among other requirements.
Campsen thinks South Carolina's Farm Bureau, an advocacy group on agriculture issues, will launch an "all out jihad" against the bill, and he's not sure it will survive.
"I'm all for farmers. I'm a big conservationist, I don't want us to be nothing but condos," Campsen said.
"But you have a stewardship responsibility. Theoretically, one user could take all of the safe yield out of a river. That's permitted, that's lawful" under the current law.
The Farm Bureau worries that the bill, and similar proposals, would squeeze farms with regulations that would cause them to, among other things, stop watering during a drought.
It calls such proposals "radical" in posts on its Facebook page. "We all know a (manufacturing) facility can shut the doors during a drought - and reopen in a few weeks or months without any effect on the quality of its production," the group wrote.
"But, stop watering a field in the midst of a drought and see what happens to those plants. We all know they will wither and die - causing the farmer to lose his entire year's income. That affects ALL farmers and all of South Carolina."
In past weeks, the Farm Bureau has launched a campaign called "Save SC Farmers," which has a website that asks people to tell their legislator to stop Campsen's and others' efforts.
"Despite 'unprecedented' concessions by the agriculture community, they are still rushing through with a statewide bill," according to the website. "If these new laws are passed it will hurt farmers and a number of other economic sectors in South Carolina. ... These radicals WILL cost us jobs!"
Farm Bureau President David Winkles said in an email that Campsen's bill wants to amend a 2010 water law that came about after four years of scrutiny and compromise between agricultural, environmental and business interests. "We should take a careful approach to any changes in that law," Winkles said.
Campsen said that given such a campaign, the bill will receive a lot of scrutiny when it is heard in the Senate's Agriculture Committee. A meeting has not yet been scheduled, he said.
Reach Jeremy Borden at 843-708-5837.
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