South Carolina’s Fire Sale on Water

by William Moultrie

Columbia –
South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) is proposing a new program that could potentially raise tens of millions of dollars for our cash-strapped state by selling water rights.  This move comes on the heels of a recent decision by DHEC and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to permit Duke energy to ‘have their way’ with the Catawba River leaving as little as 25% of the water for South Carolina.

dry-river

This scene could become commonplace if DHEC's plan moves forward.

“We don’t have coal, we don’t have gold or silver, and nobody will let us drill for oil off the coast,” said DHEC administrator Brandon Marlin. “There aren’t a lot of resources we can exploit here in South Carolina, but we have plenty of water and the lesson we’ve learned from dealing with Duke Energy is that there are people willing to pay for it.”

On Thursday, DHEC launched an Ebay-style website to auction off water rights to the highest bidder. The most obvious potential bidders would be our neighboring states of Georgia and North Carolina, but language on the site indicated that DHEC would be willing to work with interested bidders wishing to transport the water farther.

“Who are we to tell someone in Tennessee or Virginia that they can’t come up with some sort of canal or tunnel system to transport fresh South Carolina water to whatever destination they choose. They’re already free to come and set up a bottling plant on any of our rivers and take as much of it — even all of it — as they want. There’s no regulation to stop them from doing that; all we’re doing is making it easier. For the right price, we’ll let them divert a river right out of the state.  What they do with it after it crosses our borders is no longer our problem.”

Environmental and conservation groups in the state were outraged.

“I can’t even begin to fathom the impact this action will have on the flora and fauna of South Carolina,” said Adam Beachman of the South Carolina Coastal But Not Only Coastal Conservation Association (SCCBNOCCA). “The effects of just losing the flow from the Catawba would have been a disaster by itself, but this is just suicide — literally.  Fish, plants, animals… they all need water to survive. Oh, and people too.”

“Is this a joke?” asked Jonas Timmerman of the South Carolina Sierra Club.  “I’m just going to assume this is a joke.”

DHEC appears undeterred.

“They’re not looking at the big picture,” said Marlin, “if Atlanta wanted all our water, they could come here, set up shop, bottle it and ship it back — like I said before, there’s nothing we could do to stop them.  But now, we’re negotiating with them on a big money deal to divert about half the flow of the Savannah River to run in a new canal parallel to I-20 all the way to Atlanta.  Just think of the millions of plastic bottles that won’t end up in landfills.  Sometimes these groups are just unable to step back and look at the big picture.”

“And I don’t see what the big deal is anyway. Did you see how much it rained last night? I’m pretty sure our drought days are behind us.”

The move would seem to set the stage for an alliance between traditional enemies Santee Cooper and the SCCBNOCCA.

“At some point they’re going to realize that they have coal-fired power plants on the downstream ends of these rivers,” said Beachman, “and without water, those things are going to shut down. Not to mention the dozens of other downstream industries — they’ve been fighting water regulation for years and now their actions are going to bite them on the ass. I expect them to join us in opposing this ridiculous plan.”

“We’re solidly on board with DHEC on this decision,” said Lefty Crappier, CEO of Santee Cooper. “It’s true our coal plants depend on water, but that’s precisely why we need to build more of them and build them now while the water is still there. We’ve been talking with DHEC about accelerating the coal plant permitting process to be sure we can have that Florence plant up and running before all the water is gone.”

“He said what?” responded Beachman.

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