April 7, 2015
(Washington, DC) – American Rivers named the Edisto River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2015 today, highlighting the threat excessive agricultural water withdrawals pose to other water users and river health.
“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers that are at a tipping point,” said Gerrit Jöbsis of American Rivers. “We all deserve reliable clean water supplies. But on the Edisto, state law plays favorites, helping certain water users while harming others. It’s time to level the playing field for all water users to protect our state’s economy and ensure a future of healthy rivers and streams.”
This year’s listing of the Edisto River follows the South Fork of the Edisto’s listing in the 2014 America’s Most Endangered Rivers ® report. Excessive agricultural water withdrawals continue to be a major threat to the Edisto and other rivers across the state. While municipal and industrial water users are required to get withdrawal permits, South Carolina’s surface water law does not require permits for agricultural water users. This means that the state cannot require reduced water use during drought periods to protect essential river flows for fish and wildlife, water quality, and downstream users.
American Rivers called on the South Carolina State Legislature to pass H.3564, a bill that would end unfair exemption of large agricultural water withdrawals from permitting.
“The flow and quality of the freshwater in the upstream reaches of the Edisto River determine the flow and quality of the mighty South and North Edisto Rivers that form Edisto Island and the health of our creek and marsh ecosystems. Sharing the water of the longest blackwater river in the U.S. must be done wisely today to protect it for all of its multiple users and its estuaries for tomorrow,” said Lloyd Bray of Edisto Island Preservation Alliance.
“The magnificent Edisto, as other South Carolina rivers, is in very real danger of destructive neglect in the absence of any effective measures in the law to restrain unlimited consumptive water use for agricultural purposes,” said Tim Rogers with Friends of the Edisto. “The potentially catastrophic result is a grossly unbalanced policy which would sacrifice our most precious natural resource, even while other, non-agricultural water uses are regulated through a careful permitting process required in the same statute. We will continue to strive for a balanced policy to protect the public interest in our vital and critically valuable surface water resources.”
“Our rivers sustain our economies and our quality of life,” said Ann Timberlake of Conservation Voters of South Carolina said. “The Edisto River is the only major river in South Carolina that is solely ours. We are its steward and its protector. We owe it to all South Carolinians to make sure the Edisto, and all of our rivers, are protected for future generations.”
“The Edisto is the canary in the coal mine,” said Doug Busbee with Edisto TV. “We have already seen historic low flows even though we were not in a drought, and even now, with recent rains, the Edisto remains about two thirds of its average flow. This fight is not just about the Edisto. It is about every stream and river in South Carolina. This can happen anywhere in the state, from the mountains to the sea.”
The longest free-flowing blackwater river in the United States, the Edisto winds from spring-fed headwaters in the Sandhills of central South Carolina, through the heart of floodplain forests in the Coastal Plain, to the rich estuary of the Ashepoo/Combahee/Edisto Basin. It is an intimate river along most of its length— a place where paddlers enjoy solitude and close-up views of diverse plants and wildlife. Since no dams block the Edisto’s flow, migratory fish are free to run its entire 250 mile length from the ocean to its headwaters.
The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.
“This year’s report underscores the importance of healthy rivers to each and every American,” said Irvin. “Whether it’s for clean drinking water, ample water supplies for farms and cities, abundant fish and wildlife, or iconic places vital to our heritage, we all have a stake in protecting our nation’s rivers.”
About American Rivers
American Rivers protects wild rivers, restores damaged rivers, and conserves clean water for people and nature. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and an annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign. Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 250,000 members, supporters, and volunteers.