Saving the Edisto River

Today’s guest blog about the #6 South Fork Edisto River- a part of our America’s Most Endangered Rivers® series- is from Doug Busbee, a local long-term resident.

South Fork Edisto River, SC | © Hugo Krispyn

Tell Governor Haley and the South Carolina General Assembly to protect the Edisto River from excessive water withdrawals | © Hugo Krispyn

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When I was a small boy, sometimes in the summer I’d stay with my cousins at my Uncle Wayne’s house, and the thrill of the week was when we got to go fishing on the Edisto River on Friday and Saturday afternoons. I remember that the water was so dark and mysterious, with big cypress trees and their cypress knees sticking up out of the ground. That was intriguing to a small boy. It was an adventure!

But, as much as I loved it, I took it for granted. They say, “You don’t miss the water ‘til the well goes dry.” I never really realized what we had here until it was threatened, until there was a risk of it not being here anymore.

Now my eyes have been opened and I recognize what an incredible resource we have right in our backyards. It’s a part of us. It’s part of my family. My Granddaddy would float logs from here on the South Fork all the way to Edisto Beach, and then on into Charleston. It’s part of my people. We had to survive out of these swamps and streams. The river is a part of us, and it sustains us through hard times.

My dream when I was growing up was to have a share in the Guinyard Hunt Club on the South Fork of the Edisto River. When that opportunity came my way – several years ago, now – I took it. I love just going down there and spending time. I don’t even really hunt anymore, but I’ll go down there and take kids fishing, or we’ll cook a catfish stew. The greatest thing in the world is bringing kids out to the river and watching them catch that first fish. It’s still an adventure, and it keeps me in touch with the boy that I was on those afternoons fishing with Uncle Wayne. I don’t take it for granted anymore, though.

By the time I first heard about Walther Farms in the autumn of 2013, they had already received approval from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) for a registered agricultural water withdrawal of over eight hundred million gallons a month from the South Fork of the Edisto, just a few miles upstream of the Guinyard tract. Thousands of acres had been cleared, and construction of a water intake was underway on the river’s bank. However, when I started asking around, nobody really seemed to know very much about it. It was frustrating because it seemed like most folks were oblivious to what was happening – including local elected officials – and there was no public notice about any of it.

The first really positive thing that happened was when someone suggested that I get in touch with Friends of the Edisto. Friends of the Edisto completed the Freedom of Information Act request for DHEC’s records, and began leading the way on addressing the situation through administrative and legal channels. At the same time, local grassroots support began to grow on Facebook, and The State newspaper in Columbia printed a cover story about the Edisto and Walther Farms in December 2013. Things developed quickly from that point.

As I write these words, a lot of the initial uproar has died down, and the issue has become more nuanced and complex. The focus has now mostly shifted from the Walther Farms operation to a larger issue with the South Carolina Surface Water Withdrawal Act – brought to light by the situation on the Edisto. Many environmental and conservation groups have joined the effort, and it’s been a source of comfort to know that we do not stand alone.

It seems like a simple thing. How could anyone be opposed to protecting the health and vitality of the Edisto River?

The law that we’re now working to change – the South Carolina Surface Water Withdrawal Act – was drafted with the goal of protecting our river resources. It is very clear that the current law falls short of that goal, but it was a genuine attempt to do something positive. Now, we would like the law to achieve the purpose for which it was written, and that means it needs to be fixed. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done. There are powerful forces in state politics, led by the influential (and deep pocketed) South Carolina Farm Bureau Association, which are actively opposing changing the law.

Until this past November when I joined Friends of the Edisto, I’d never been a part of a conservation group in my life. I never really saw the need. I didn’t want to bother anybody, and I didn’t want to be bothered by anybody. However, in the past few months I’ve learned that taking care of this river means that I have to change.

I see now that protecting our rivers – not just our river here, but EVERY river – could be the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life. I feel like I’m where I ought to be, and where God wants me to be – trying to be a good steward of the land and the water, trying to make a difference.

When I heard that the Edisto had been selected as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2014 by American Rivers, my first reaction was excitement. We’ve been doing everything we can to spread the word about this issue, and any additional exposure we can get helps that effort. For an organization with the stature and credibility of American Rivers to join us in our struggle to protect the Edisto is an amazing boost to our cause. Upon reflection, though, there is little to celebrate in having our “endangered” status confirmed.

We’ve got a long way to go. I think we have to ask ourselves what’s really valuable to us. The bottom line is that if we don’t decide that our water resources are valuable, and work to preserve and protect them, we’re going to lose what we have here. The river as I knew it growing up, or as we know it now – that river might not be there for our kids, or for their kids – so that’s what I’m fighting for.

Please join us in fighting to protect the Edisto River from excessive water withdrawals! If you are a resident of South Carolina, please send a letter to your state legislator explaining the importance of improving the South Carolina Surface Water Withdrawal Act.

4 Responses to “Saving the Edisto River”

David Barwick

I back 100% those who are working to preserve the Edisto and other natural resources. Yes, the law needs desperately to be changed ASAP. The fox has been running the hen house way too long.

Alexander T. Creel

Please help us preserve the Edisto River. I am of the Edisto Natchez-Kusso Indian Tribe. My people have lived on the Edisto River since the 1500’s. This river is very important to my people and our Heritage.Let alone all the others that have lived and depended on the Edisto River.

Phyllis Perry King

To whom it may concern:

There are far too few people and places in this over populated, under privileged world in which we live; where God’s mercy can be witnessed and appreciated by everyone regardless of age, race or sexual orientation. The south Edisto river is one of these places.
If the water level gets depleted both the flora and fauna will also negatively suffer. Being a life time resident, I am very aware of peace of mind this river brings. Without the beauty of our state, there would be no tourists and possibly fewer residence. That is putting aside the increase in crime that would prevail. People here shoot guns at the wildlife for recreational and survival purposes. If the water is gone, so too is the wild life. Without the hunting and fishing of wild life, there would no longer be a need for those departments. There would also be less money spent on restaurants, and tourists shops. Thus creating less employment. Businesses could not afford to produce pay checks if they themselves are making less income.
I haven’t gone into detail about any of these figures, as I am not a politicization or survey researcher. However, I am an intelligent resident and registered voter in South Carolina. I would think that other intelligent people would ponder and address these issues before they made decisions to withdraw waters from this free flowing river. You really didn’t think this through, did you? I hope an elected official has equal or greater intelligence than that of my family and friends.

Mrs. Phyllis Perry King

George Robert Young

The South Carolina Surface Water Withdrawal and Reporting Act was originally enacted in 1982, and revised in 2000. The revised amendments actually relaxed some of the Water Withdrawal Act’s retirements. Our Surface Water Withdrawal and Reporting Act must be revised very soon to protect our rivers. We have been blessed with above average rainfall over the last couple of years, this trend will not last. In addition to revising our laws we must plan for the future and perform aquifer availability and surface water studies. Most all of South Carolina surface and groundwater resources are linked, it is important to know the volumes, depth, and recharge rates of our groundwater. This information can be used to determine the amount of groundwater that can safely be withdrawn. When applied properly water model data can be used to prevent rivers and wells from going dry and prevent the movement of poorer quality groundwater into aquifers. We do not have an endless supply of water in our State. We need to learn from the mistakes made in the Western United States. Our Edisto river systems and related wetlands are very complex. Hopefully the proposed USGS study (modeling ground and surface waters) in Aiken County will give us a better understanding of the interactions to the South Edisto and associated ground water. We do have a long way to go, our rivers and water wells will dry up if we do not make drastic changes to our surface and ground water laws.