Neighbors unhappy with Aiken potato farm

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

WINDSOR, S.C. (WRDW) -- A controversial potato farm in Aiken County is once again in the spotlight after several people living in the area say it’s causing problems in their area. Back in March, Walther Farms began planting potatoes; making it the largest potato farm in South Carolina

The farm has stirred controversy, raised eyebrows, and made headlines. Some say the Michigan-based farm has moved to its location outside Windsor to take advantage of South Carolina's weak river laws and drain the nearby South Edisto River dry.

The farm, a supplier of potatoes for the Frito-Lay company, originally had plans to pump 9.6 billion gallons of water from the South Edisto River every year. While the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) predicted the withdrawals wouldn't harm the river, many members of the public weren't so sure.
The farm will reduce the amount it withdraws from the river by 50 percent, it will work with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to install a monitoring station that will track flow rates to "promote responsible water use and awareness," it will drill a backup well on the Aiken County portion of the farm to supplement river water during times of drought, and it will drill wells in the portion of the farm in Barnwell County (known as the Wiley Fork Farm) to avoid pumping the 3 billion gallons of water from the river that DHEC was in the process of considering.

"I think that folks will see that potatoes aren't a whole lot different than what's grown in the area right now," said Jeremy Walther, co-operator of the farm. "We are a family farm. The farm started back in the '40s with my grandfather, then my dad and three of my uncles carried on from there, and now there's myself, three of my brothers, and five of my cousins involved."

But Gordon Curry says that hasn’t kept the pull of the farm from affecting his water system.

“We've been here 8 1/2 years and I've never had any problem,” says Curry. “Until they started pulling 12 million gallons a day out of the Edisto River.”

On Monday, Curry says when he went to turn on his sprinkler system, it turned on just fine. Forty five minutes later, it was off. He called a well expert to determine if the problem was on his end.

“In my professional opinion,” says Brian Coleman with Bobby Owens Pump and Well Service. “The potato farm, that’s less than two miles away, they're pumping so many gallons of water that it's causing the water table to fall.”

Back in February, State Senator George E. "Chip" Campsen, III of Charleston, introduced a bill that he believes would curb the draw of water by the farm be requiring a permit to do just that.

“There needs to be an overarching provision that says, essentially, if you're going to take a certain percentage of the river's flow, you need to have a permit,” said Senator Campsen.

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