Bo Petersen's Feb. 17 Post and Courier front-page article, "Future hangs in the balance for backwaters Edisto," is a call to action for all those who love the Edisto. The numbers Mr. Petersen showcased, such as 639,800 gallons of treated wastewater discharged into the river every day (38 percent of its average daily flow), were truly shocking.
On April 9, we again saw the plight of the Edisto River making front-page news. In Petersen's story, "Edisto endangered," he brings attention to the fact that the Edisto was recently ranked sixth in a listing of America's "Most Endangered" rivers by the conservation organization, American Rivers. The reason given for this dubious distinction was excessive water withdrawals.
Rarely does a precious natural resource die of a single environmental assault. More often they succumb to the much more common and subtle death by a thousand cuts, such as bleeding off 110.5 million gallons per day of Edisto water to another basin, transfusing 110 million gallons per day to hydrate Charlestonians, 400,000 gallons per day to irrigate potatoes for potato chips, and on and on.
For forty years Audubon South Carolina, its conservation partners and private landowners have been protecting habitat in the Four Holes Swamp watershed, which makes up about one-third of the Edisto River Basin. This work has protected more than 30,000 acres, most of it in and near Four Holes.
Recently we have expanded our focus to include much of the main stem of the Edisto, from the confluence of Four Holes Swamp with the Edisto up to the junction of the North and South Forks, and several miles downstream.
The terrible irony is that no matter how successful we and our partners are at protecting important habitat in and along Four Holes Swamp and along the Edisto and its tributaries, if we do not protect and preserve the flow rates and water quality of the Edisto river itself, we will not have succeeded.
In the subtitle of his February piece, Mr. Petersen used the expression "small-scale water wars." The only thing small about these issues is the amount of water in the beautiful, little Edisto, and how very little extra it has to donate to non-ecological functions, particularly at its lowest flows. In drought years, the very ones during which the irrigators will want it most, the Edisto all but dries up. Without water, there is no Edisto River.
For all of you who love the Edisto River and the ACE Basin into which it discharges, take heed. For everyone who thinks preserved land equals protected wetland ecosystems, take heed. We must find ways to apportion the waters of the Edisto to the users and potential users of it, while maintaining generous minimum flows which sustain ecological river and forested wetland functions, and deliver adequate high quality water to support the ACE Basin downstream.
Speak out for the Edisto River, and tell your friends in government that you expect them protect it well, for its manifold natural virtues, and for all of the things it does for the hearts and souls of the people who hunt, fish, swim, canoe, boat and lollygag in and along it. Make them know how important the Edisto is to you.
American Rivers issued a news release stating that the South Fork of the Edisto is among 10 "whose fate will be decided in the next year."
The time to protect the Edisto is now.
Norman Brunswig is executive director of Audubon South Carolina