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Thread: Mega Scumbags

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2001
    Wateree, South Carolina

    Default Mega Scumbags

    While no one was looking, families may have stopped mega farm expansion on the Edisto


    JUNE 25, 2020 12:23 PM , UPDATED 1 HOUR 58 MINUTES AGO
    SC megafarms sucking billions of gallons of water annually affecting the Edisto River

    For seven years, Doug Busbee pushed state lawmakers to close loopholes in a law that allows industrial scale farms to slurp billions of gallons of water from rivers across South Carolina.

    Now, the plain-spoken Busbee and his friends have used those loopholes against mega-farms that may seek to expand in the peaceful river basin near his home.

    A handful of families, including Busbee’s, recently received state permission to use the remaining capacity of rivers and creeks in the upper Edisto River basin. The families now have authorization to withdraw up to 4.4 billion gallons of water a month, more than the city of Columbia uses on average to serve all of its water customers.

    That means new mega-farms seeking large amounts of water from the basin’s streams could have a hard time getting state permission in the future, if they can get permission at all. In turn, that could discourage them from locating there because there isn’t enough capacity to withdraw more water. New mid-sized farms and industries might also be affected.

    State regulators say it’s the first time a major South Carolina river basin has been declared at capacity for new withdrawals. The area at capacity covers about 80 miles, extending from Dorchester County near Givhans Ferry to Edgefield County west of Columbia.

    “This is, we believe, consequential,’’ said Mike Marcus, who heads the state environmental protection department’s water division. “It’s the first time this has happened in the state on this scale. That, by itself, gives us all pause to consider some of the potential ramifications.’’

    Busbee and the others received state approval to use the upper basin’s remaining river capacity by saying they plan to farm in the area one day, even though they aren’t full-time farmers.

    Under the state law that Busbee and others say is too weak, that’s virtually all they had to do to gain state permission for the withdrawals.

    South Carolina law doesn’t require farms to get permits, nor does it require public notice and a thorough review of how major water withdrawals will affect others.

    The normally talkative Busbee said the issue is a sensitive one and he can’t say much about it.

    But one of his friends who also received permission to withdraw water said the families want to legitimately farm the land, while also protecting the upper Edisto River basin’s forks and streams

    ““Our family has been here and this is for future generations,’’ said Norway, S.C.-resident Henry Brown who, with his sister, received permission to pump billions of gallons of water each month for irrigation on two farms. “But I’d also like to see the river flowing, and not just be a dried up mud hole six months out of the year. This is part of a conservation thing, as well.”

    “Our idea is to maintain a farm and still have water there for others to use.’’

    Cole Page, one of many mega-farm critics, said he’s glad Busbee and Brown took action. Page has clashed with mega-farmers who set up shop near his home in 2013, claiming they have hurt the environment and disrupted his peaceful way of life in Barnwell County.

    “I feel comfortable the river is starting to be protected; it is by a private citizen because we couldn’t get a government agency to stand up for us,’’ said Page, who is not among those who received approval to use the basin’s remaining capacity.

    Busbee, 54, has been one of the most consistent critics of mega-farms and the threat he believes they present to the upper Edisto River basin.

    Since word surfaced in 2013 that a Michigan agribusiness planned to open an expansive potato farm and pull billions of gallons of water from the South Fork of the Edisto, he has been a fixture at legislative hearings, Department of Natural Resources meetings and community forums to advocate for a tighter law to protect rivers from massive withdrawals.

    A Wagener native who runs a junkyard and truck salvage business, Busbee said he’s a supporter of farming. His family has a history of it dating to Colonial times. But he also is an outdoorsman who loves the solitude of the Edisto River and its tributaries. Busbee has said he’s trying to protect the river system from too much pumping. Some creeks in the river already are extremely low during dry months, he says.

    Brown, 58,, is a retired school teacher who says he wants to get back into farming. He said his family once farmed extensively on property near the South Fork and some relatives still grow hay. But he said it will be at least a decade before the family would use much of the river water DHEC approved for irrigation.

    Mega-farms that opened in the upper Edisto River basin about seven years ago have been a source of complaints from neighbors. The farms, which take up vast amounts of rural land, cleared thousands of acres of forests, sucked up billions of gallons of groundwater and river water, created powerful odors and closed once public roads, The State reported in a 2017 series.

    The farmers, who moved to South Carolina from out of state, said they are good stewards of the environment and are trying to get along with their new neighbors. They maintain that their use of water hasn’t depleted rivers.

    It’s unknown whether more large corporate farms are looking to move into the upper Edisto River basin, in part because the state’s 2010 surface water law doesn’t require them to give public notice.

    Walther Farms, which opened the huge potato growing operation in the area about seven years ago, has enough water for now and isn’t looking to expand, said company executive Jeremy Walther. Representatives of the Woody agribusiness group, which also opened a mega corn farm in the basin, could not be reached to discuss future plans.

    But the upper Edisto River basin has long been attractive for farming and any restrictions on agriculture are sure to be noticed. The basin is one of South Carolina’s most productive agricultural regions because of the well-drained soils and access to water for irrigation.

    Extending from Edgefield County to the Atlantic Ocean below Charleston, the Edisto River basin has more than 100 approved water intakes, most of them from farms, state records show. More than half of the 10 billion gallons withdrawn annually by farms from South Carolina’s rivers, lakes and ponds occurs in the Edisto River basin, The State reported in its 2017 series on mega-farms.

    The entire Edisto River basin, which is west of Columbia and includes Orangeburg and Aiken counties, also is popular with nature enthusiasts. The area is filled with deep swamps, dark forests and tea-colored streams that draw kayakers and anglers. Part of the Edisto River runs through the ACE Basin nature preserve in the Lowcountry.

    The S.C. Department of Agriculture and the S.C. Farm Bureau had little to say about whether the recently approved withdrawals could hurt agriculture in the Edisto basin. But the Farm Bureau appeared to question the Brown and Busbee families’ plans.

    In an email to The State newspaper, the Farm Bureau said it supports “the use of available water resources for legitimate farming.’’

    It might have been unthinkable in the past that the upper Edisto River basin could reach its capacity. But the volume of withdrawals approved this past spring by DHEC is huge, even though the Busbees and Browns are unlikely to use all of the water.

    Families authorized for withdrawals since March could collectively suck up 4.4 billion gallons each month from the upper Edisto’s forks and tributaries. One farm, to be run by Henry Brown’s sister, could take up to 3.2 billion gallons of that each month from the South Fork, one of the Edisto’s two main branches, records show.

    That is more than the city of Columbia withdraws from the Broad River and Lake Murray each month, on average, to supply drinking water, said Clint Shealy, an assistant city manager who oversees Columbia’s water system, one of the state’s largest.

    The 3.2 billion gallons per month by Brown’s sister’s farm also is substantially more than any South Carolina farm has been allowed to siphon since the 2010 surface water law passed, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. Surface water includes rivers, streams, lakes and ponds.

    The next largest approved farm withdrawal is for 615 million gallons per month in the Salkehatchie basin, according to DHEC data. Walther Farms’ is approved to withdraw 400 million gallons a month, ranking it sixth in the state, according to DHEC.

    Interestingly, with the amounts approved for the families, the total authorized withdrawals are so large that the state likely approved siphoning more water than actually exists in some of the upper Edisto River basin’s waterways during the drier summer months, critics of the water withdrawal law say.

    The state’s 2010 surface water law relies on a mathematical formula to calculate how much water can be safely pulled from a river. But the law bases that on an annual average — and during dry times when the average river levels are naturally much lower, there may not be enough water to withdraw all that has been approved, state officials acknowledge.

    None of the businesses or farms in the basin already approved to withdraw water would lose that right because of the capacity issue.

    Limits on major withdrawals would only apply to new farms or businesses, or to expanding farms that need large amounts of river water, state regulators say. The capacity issue also doesn’t prevent large farms from seeking approval to withdraw groundwater or from going through the more rigorous river withdrawal permitting process, according to DHEC.

    South Carolina’s 2010 surface water law allowed the Brown and Busbee families to reserve water for farms, even though they aren’t farming much now.

    State regulators say they had little choice but to approve the withdrawals.

    The 2010 state law doesn’t require public notice for proposed farm withdrawals and does not require DHEC to conduct a detailed investigation to make sure the water will be used for agriculture. Nor does it require the state to see how massive agricultural withdrawals will affect fish and wildlife or people who live downstream.

    And once DHEC approves the amount, the farm can keep it forever, except under limited circumstances, said Josh Eagle, a University of South Carolina law professor who has studied the state water law.

    For the most part, people wanting to pull at least 3 million gallons a month from a river only need to tell DHEC they plan to farm.

    The law also requires the state to calculate the “safe yield’’ of a river impacted by withdrawals, but the safe yield formula has come under criticism for not protecting rivers. It’s such a concern that DHEC formed a committee to study how to improve the formula.

    “If their request is within the safe yield, they are deemed registered with the department,’’ DHEC’s Alex Butler said. “That has led to the current situation where we have parts of the basin being allocated.’’

    It’s possible DHEC could revoke the approvals for the Browns and the Busbees if the agency determines they are not making progress toward farming the property, agency officials said. But DHEC also said the families could turn around the next year, reapply for the water capacity and gain approval again.

    Gerrit Jobsis, a regional official with the conservation group American Rivers, said the law is inadequate to protect rivers and creeks.

    “If it is for agricultural use, you get it automatically if you just register for it,’’ he said.

    In contrast to the farm approval process, industries go through a more rigorous review if they want to pull more than 3 million gallons per month from a river. Among other things, DHEC looks at how the withdrawals would affect wildlife, downstream users and public health. Industries seeking permits also must notify the public of their plan to siphon river water.

    Busbee said his family’s approval for the water exposes how poorly the state law was crafted.

    “In less than a couple of hours of work, you can obtain the whole flow of a river and you don’t even have to have much justification,’’ Busbee said.

    In his case, Busbee said his family members legitimately applied through the agricultural registration process, proved to DHEC they owned the land, and sought as much water as DHEC would approve.

    Monty Rast, a peanut farmer who lives in St. Matthews, isn’t impressed.

    He said DHEC could have done a better job vetting the Brown and Busbee applications, despite complaints about the law. Rast recently got approval to withdraw 40 million gallons per month to water his crops, an amount far lower than what the Busbees and Browns received. DHEC checked his plan thoroughly and it is for a legitimate, operating farm, he said.

    Rast, who farms about 2,000 acres in three Edisto basin counties, expressed frustration at the amount of water allocated to the Busbees and Browns.

    “No one individual farm that is not even actively farming should be allowed to tie up all of the water rights,’’ Rast said.

    J.J. Jowers, a member of a state council that is looking at water issues in the Edisto River basin, said having the basin at capacity isn’t good in the long term because the area needs to grow. But the actions by the families will protect the river system until the Legislature can re-examine the law, he said.

    “If that will get this moving and get the law addressed, it’s good from that perspective,’’ Jowers said.

    For now, “the club just became exclusive’’ for the farms and businesses that already have approval to withdraw from the upper Edisto basin, Jowers said.

    It’s unknown if efforts by the Busbees and Browns would spur the Legislature to make changes in the law anytime soon. Lawmakers are focused on issues related to the coronavirus crisis that has gripped South Carolina.

    Still, former Rep. James Smith, who advocated changing the law when he served in the House, said it may need review in light of the families’ success in gaining the upper Edisto River basin’s remaining capacity.

    “This does point out additional weaknesses in the law,’’ Smith said. “I’ve always felt that ultimately our efforts to have the law changed to take a more responsible use for the rivers would (occur) at some point. But it would take either a real crisis or maybe an event like this to really force change.’’

    Records show the Brown and Busbee families received five DHEC approvals from early March to June to withdraw water from the South Fork of the Edisto and adjacent streams.

    Busbee and his family received state approval for three farms to collectively pull more than 800 million gallons each month from the South Fork of the Edisto and a tributary, Dean Swamp Creek.

    Altogether, the Brown family has approval to pull more than 3.6 billion gallons each month from two proposed farms, made up of about 500 acres, on the South Fork and the Little River, records show. The proposed farms include the one owned by Brown’s sister that can withdraw 3.2 billion gallons per month.

    It was not clear how the massive withdrawals would affect industrial development or public water systems. The Edisto River basin is for the most part a lightly developed area of small towns with little infrastructure to lure industry.

    Will Williams, president of an economic development partnership that serves Aiken and three other counties, said that while the area has not been heavily sought for industrial development, the lack of access to the Edisto River’ basin’s water could be an issue one day.

    Not only do industries need water for processing, but they need adequate capacity in a river so they can discharge treated pollutants, he said. If a river is too low, it hurts the capacity to dilute wastewater, he said.

    “A water source is important, to some industries more than others,’’ he said. “I see this potentially being an issue, but not in the foreseeable future.’’

    DHEC says the capacity issue most affects farms that would seek water in the future, but it also could affect industries, depending on the circumstances.

    The state’s permitting process, while more rigorous in its review, can allow for an additional industrial intake under certain circumstances, the agency said. A big farm that would normally go through the less rigorous registration process could seek a water withdrawal permit, although there’s no guarantee that would be approved, the agency says.

    Public water supplies also are found in the area now at capacity for future withdrawals. The Charleston Water system has an intake pipe that sends Edisto River water through a tunnel to the Holy City. It is a secondary system and Charleston Water now has ample supplies to serve customers, officials said. Still, utility officials said they are monitoring the capacity issue.

    Hugo Krispyn, the Edisto Riverkeeper, said the lack of access to water from the upper Edisto basin could put more pressure on groundwater.

    “All of those users who would have been applying for surface water will be driven to groundwater, and we already are concerned about groundwater levels,’’ said Krispyn, whose environmental organization advocates protection of the Edisto River. “Not only does this show that the surface water system is now allocated beyond capacity, but you are driving them to the aquifers that are a principle source of drinking water.’’

    Disputes over water are becoming common in South Carolina, once considered to have abundant water supplies.

    While the state has in recent years experienced flooding from hurricanes and unusual storms, it also has had periods of dry weather that have, at times, lowered groundwater levels and rivers in some areas, including the upper Edisto.

    Huge farming and industrial operations also have taken a toll on water supplies in parts of South Carolina.. The state is now working to update its water plan to protect rivers and groundwater across South Carolina, a process that’s expected to take several years. It also is setting up river basin councils to examine water quantity issues across the state. The Edisto River council held its first meeting in June.

    Eagle, the University of South Carolina law professor, said the dispute in the Edisto basin shows the growing tensions over water use in South Carolina. He said he had expected someone to seek to secure the future capacity of a river because the state’s water law is so weak.

    Giving up that capacity erodes the state’s ability to oversee river withdrawals by giving future capacity to private interests, he said.

    “This is not surprising to me, given the structure of the law,’’ Eagle said. “The single biggest flaw is it allows these registered users to claim an amount in perpetuity. It’s the same thing as private. Once you own it, you own it.’’

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2001
    Wateree, South Carolina


    How long until these same "heroes of the environment" are sub leasing those water rights? Not long...

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    The Salt


    Quote Originally Posted by JABIII View Post
    How long until these same "heroes of the environment" are sub leasing those water rights? Not long...
    That was my first thought, get the permit, then sell it.
    Quote Originally Posted by Glenn View Post
    I'll shoot over a kids head in a blind or long gun one on a turkey in a heart beat. You want to kill stuff around me you gonna earn it.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2004


    You aren't saying that some people are going to get paid for the water that they don't want to be pulled out of the river.
    Amendment II A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

    Quote Originally Posted by Highstrung View Post
    I like fishing topwater. Will one of you jot down some of this redneck ghetto slang and the definitions for those of us who weren't born with a plastic spoon in our mouths?

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Elgin SC


    Quote Originally Posted by JABIII View Post
    How long until these same "heroes of the environment" are sub leasing those water rights? Not long...
    Gotta be illegal. Somehow, someway...

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2005


    Quote Originally Posted by Chuck the Duck Slayer View Post
    You aren't saying that some people are going to get paid for the water that they don't want to be pulled out of the river.
    Everything is for sale bruh......
    Quote Originally Posted by Baggy View Post
    As far as UofSC fans talking about tough schedules, just hush. You lost to an ACC team, a Sunbelt team, by 20 to a shitty Missouri team, and by 22 to the clown show in Knoxville. Schedule is irrelevant if you can’t beat bad teams. You’re an embarrassment to SEC football.


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