South Carolina is fairly rich in freshwater, but supplies are not unlimited
The state of South Carolina has taken a important step in protecting its aquifers. According to The Post and Courier, the permitting process, and a groundwater study due in Feb. 2019, should help the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) better manage groundwater supplies.
According to The Post and Courier, surface and groundwater supplies are interconnected and do not recognize man-made boundaries. South Carolina is fairly rich in freshwater, but supplies are not unlimited.
The permitting plan was opposed by the influential S.C. Farm Bureau, but was supported by local officials, environmental groups, the public and state Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken.
However, farming is the state’s biggest industry. According to The Post and Courier, it supports about 98,000 jobs and has an economic impact estimated at $41.7 billion. These permits will be free and will not affect any smaller operations.
Groundwater use has declined since peaking in 2002 when the DHEC established the Trident Capacity Use Area. According to The Post and Courier, this is good evidence that the agency’s permitting approach is working.
There have been no limits on groundwater withdrawals in the Aiken-Lexington area until now. According to The Post and Courier, the new regulations will not limit withdrawals, just require permits for big users.
The groundwater levels in the Edisto River Basin have been dropping for about 20 years, according to the DHEC. The department voted on Nov. 8 to start requiring permits for withdrawals of 3 million gal or more per month.
According to The Post and Courier, the decision was in part by the arrival of large-scale, out-of-state farming operations in past years. Billions of gal per year from ground and surface water sources have been withdrawn. This lowered water levels in the south fork of the Edisto River and contributed to residential wells running low or dry, according to The Columbia State newspaper.
The DHEC must continue to work with the state Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Geological Survey to better understand aquifer flow models and establish safe withdrawal limits, according to The Post and Courier.