As a Bamberg County resident who lives along the South Fork of the Edisto River, I was disheartened to read Jan. 15 that S.C. Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers is planning to make trips to drought-stricken Western states to convince large-scale farming operations to relocate in our state.
His sales pitch actively exploits a loophole in our state’s Surface Water Withdrawal Act by which agricultural uses are the only exemption to the permitting process and public notification that DHEC has established for removing water from rivers and lakes.
This short-sighted plea to out-of-state farming operations, coupled with the growing numbers of center-pivot wells being installed, will leave our small, multi-generational farmers, who have more ownership and respect for their land and resources, even more exposed to periods of drought and more susceptible to financial hardship.
Undoubtedly, the large-scale farming operations Weathers is hoping to attract have the ability to shut down and move on if water becomes scarce, while local farmers may not have that option.
Instead of spurring a short-lived water grab by boasting of our state’s inadequate water protection, Weathers should be fully committed to securing the sustainable future of our water resources. After all, water is a key component in the agricultural process.
Unfortunately, the deregulation of this already stressed resource for one type of user creates a likely future scenario of even greater regulation and more restriction to all users.
The state of Georgia recently imposed a moratorium on all agricultural water withdrawals over a 24-county area.
This drastic move by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division was enacted because a continued increase in water withdrawals would have compromised the “sustainable capacities of these resources.”
I hope and believe we can do better too, and that we can develop common-sense laws to conserve and protect our water from those that would exploit it.
I urge our lawmakers to address the lack of protection the current law provides for our water resources.
I also urge Hugh Weathers to be future-minded, to advocate for the sustainable use of our water resources, which are vital to the future of agriculture in South Carolina.