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DHEC meeting on Edisto River potato farm draws hundreds

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Three Things YOU can do NOW to help the South Edisto

Friends of the Edisto Reaches Settlement with Walther Farms

Attached is the legal document defining terms of a settlement between Friends of the Edisto (FRED) and Walther Farms.
[courtesy of Friends of the Edisto]

Probabilities, Frequencies, and Risks to the South Fork Edisto Flow Regime - L Allan James PhD

L. Allen James, Ph. D, is a professor at the University of South Carolina who holds a masters degree in Water Resources Management and Geography, and a Ph.D. held jointly with Geography and Geology (specializing in river science). Dr. James has been a U.S.C. faculty member since 1988, and is recognized as an expert in river science and abundant expertise in river flows and hydrologic regimes.

The attached PDF is his assessment of the potential impact of an 805 Million gallon/month withdrawal on the South Edisto.

I'm publishing this because sever folks at The Farm Bureau and Push Media have claimed that we are exaggerating when we say that rivers can be "sucked dry" under the current laws. Dr. James says it is possible.

[This report was provided by Friends of the Edisto -]

Farm Bureau Lobbying and Water Law Loopholes

A lot of people are starting to "connect the dots" between Farm Bureau money and the loopholes in the current water laws. If you really want to "Follow the Money", please check out the State Ethics Commission contributions listing. I'm sure this doesn't cover ALL donations, but a quick search on "Farm Bureau", "Winkles", or "Spires" will get you started on an interesting journey. It would be fun to cross referene contributions with the Farm Bureau staff diretory - let us know what you find! TS

Environmentalists worry potato farm’s plans could change South Edisto

Wagener resident Doug Busbee was raised on the South Fork of the Edisto River

“My uncle took me on my first fishing trip when I was 6 or 7 years old,” Busbee said. “It was a very magical and mystical place untouched by man.”

For the past 48 years, Busbee says he has had a love affair with the river and it is a relationship he will continue to fight for.

So when he found out that Michigan-based Walther Farms was planning to withdraw millions of gallons out of the blackwater river at its potato farm in Aiken County, Busbee jumped to action.

“It is unbelievable,” Busbee said. “In my lifetime ... I have never seen another farm of this magnitude.”

Walther Farms received state approval in March to withdraw about 805 million gallons per month out of the South Edisto River, or 6,440 million gallons annually. The anticipated maximum number of months the company will withdraw will be eight months.

Busbee and other landowners, farmers and Friends of the Edisto officials say the proposed project was unannounced and are concerned about the project’s impact on the river’s ecological system and wildlife.

Walther Farms President and Chief Executive Officer Jason Walther said the farm will practice sustainable agriculture and respect the land.

“In all of our processes, we focus on safety for our people and our environment,” Walther said. “We go above and beyond to ensure all nutrients are used timely by the crop and teaspoon just the right amounts required by the plants throughout the season to ensure runoff does not occur.”

Walther Farms, which has operations in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Georgia and Florida, purchased about 3,700 acres of a former horse farm in Windsor and has converted about 2,000 acres for potato farming. The farm is expected to employ between 30 and 70.

The company grows potatoes for Frito-Lay’s potato chip company. The farm plans to plant the crops in February and March and harvest in June and July.

The farm grew about 400 acres of potatoes last year and will plant to grow about 800 acres in the spring, Walther said.

As part of its plans, Walther applied for and received an agricultural registration from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control on March 21 to withdraw the water.

DHEC confirmed Walther has applied for another agricultural registration for another withdrawal effort. This was is for about 400 million gallons of water monthly.

“We are currently conducting the safe yield analysis,” DHEC spokesman Jim Beasley said, noting there is no public appeal process for an agricultural registration request.

For the initial 805 million gallon withdrawal request, DHEC said after review of the request “the proposed withdrawal is within the safe yield of the source of water body at the withdrawal point and within the safe yield of the Edisto River Basin.”

It is not known if Walther Farms will use both groundwater and river water to irrigate, though officials say they plan to use less than the registered allowance.

Springfield 150-acre tree farmer Vince Furtick lives about 1-1/2 miles from the river and has lived on the river’s edge since he was five.

“The South Fork of the Edisto River is a part of me,” he said. “This river means so much.”

Furtick says he uses drip irrigation on his property, with the water coming out of six underground wells. He tabulates his water usage and submits reports to DHEC. He uses about 65 million gallons a year.

He was shocked to hear Walther Farms would be using 805 million gallons a month from the river.

“I did not think they could do that because the law would not allow it,” he said.

According to South Carolina law enacted in 2010, an agricultural use of surface water must be registered if in excess of three million gallons of water is withdrawn in any one month at a single intake or multiple intakes within a mile radius of each other.

Three million gallons is roughly equal to applying one inch of water to 30 acres of crops, four times in a month.

For nonagricultural uses exceeding 3 million gallons a month, a surface water withdrawal permit is required as well as a public notice and hearing.

Busbee, who says he has nothing against farming, said the law was meant to protect the small farmer and not an operation the size of Walther.

He says he is mostly concerned about the fungicide, herbicide and pesticides that will be applied to the farm. He said due to the sandy soils and slope of the land, the chemicals will have only one place to go and that is the Edisto River.

“High nitrogen and high phosphorous that is running back into the river is my main concern and its impact on the wildlife and the ecosystems downstream,” he said.

And Furtick says the area just got out of a drought.

“If we have some dry years ... they will take it all,” he said. “I can’t imagine it.”

Walther said potatoes are similar to corn in that they require between 10 inches and 20 inches of water per acre to grow, depending on the weather.

Walther said the farm uses an integrated pest management program that uses the “safest pesticides available and only when necessary.”

“Every season is different depending on disease and insect risk,” he said. “With our practices being built around a sustainable agricultural plan, I am confident there will not be any issues with nutrient runoff.”

Walther also said he was unaware of any geological evidence that would support concerns of drying up of underground wells.

Friends of the Edisto President Tim Rogers said beyond concerns of the potential impact of the project on the Edisto River, he is concerned about how such a project could proceed without public notice or input.

“We were not able to find out about this until September,” Rogers said, noting when the matter was discovered, he submitted a Freedom of Information Act request. Information from the request was not received until Nov. 18, he said.

“When we attempted to file an appeal to DHEC, we were told our application was disallowed,” Rogers said. “We did not have an opportunity to make a presentation because it was not submitted in a timely fashion.”

DHEC requires a 15-day comment period, but since Walther received the registration to proceed in March, the November appeal was too late.

Rogers said under an agricultural registration, there is no requirement to inform the public. There was no chance to appeal because there was no knowledge of the request.

DHEC spokeswoman Lindsey Evans said the registration process has been appropriately done.

“There is no requirement for a public notice or public meeting for an agricultural registration, so nothing has been missed or bypassed,” she said. “This is the first registration we have issued, but note there is no other standard that we would follow other than the law and regulation.”

Evans said if Walther had applied for a surface water withdrawal permit rather than an agricultural registration a public notice would have been required.

Rogers said FRED is currently in discussion with its legal counsel on what to do next.

“We are seriously considering our legal alternatives,” Rogers said.

“There could be other requests for issuance of certifications and there would be no way to know about it,” Rogers said. “I hope our legislature has an opportunity to revisit that part of the regulations which were adopted pursuant to the act and consider whether that is good public policy and a fair balance of interest of the public and interest of private parties.”