Depletion of Groundwater and Surfacewater Through Excessive Water Withdrawal Despite being one of South Carolina’s most popular rivers for recreation, the Edisto River was named one of the most endangered rivers in the county by American Rivers’ America’s Most Endangered Rivers report in 2014 and 2015. The Edisto is also the state’s most favored river for irrigation, and excessive agricultural water withdrawals continually threaten water quantity and supply of the river. The state’s permitting process shows a clear preference to agricultural water users: industrial and municipal water users are required to meet specific requirements to safeguard the river’s health and clean water, while agricultural users are not held to those standards. Local water resources are insufficient in meeting public and agricultural needs under the current withdrawal allowances. Locally, Savannah Riverkeeper, along with other water advocacy groups and advisory boards have recognized the threat that this poses to not only the future of the Edisto River, the sustainability and livelihood of the Basin’s residents, as well as the future of development and economic growth in the area.
Recent data released by the Department of Natural Resources and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control through A Preliminary Assessment of the Groundwater Conditions in Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Calhoun, Lexington, and Orangeburg Counties, South Carolina shows a 23-year trend of decline within the water table in parts of the Edisto River Basin, shown through monitoring of well water levels in the basin. Despite the alarming rate at which water levels drop during the summer months, capacity usage designations still do not exist within this region. The decrease in water levels within wells is attributed to rapid water withdrawal by megafarms in the Aiken County area, as DNR hydrologists have recently confirmed the interconnectedness of aquifers in this area. Therefore, even if large agricultural and utility withdrawals are taken from one aquifer, the surrounding aquifers from which residential water is taken are still affected and lowered as a result of their interconnectedness.
Depletion of the water table in Aiken County is a growing threat due to poor agricultural practices and a lack of regulation and oversight for groundwater and surface water withdrawal. Megafarms in the Aiken County area have in 2 years grown to consume almost as much water as the entire city of Aiken; enough for 27,000 city residents. With the growth and increase in production being seen with these megafarms, the demand for water will also increase. Aiken County’s 2014 draft Comprehensive Plan update stated that aquifers could support in excess of 15 million gallon per day. However, consumption of over 20 million gallons per day was shown by 2016, further displaying the need for capacity usage establishment.