Charleston senator to file bill targeting Aiken Co. potato farm


News 12 at 6 o'clock / Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014

AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW) -- During South Carolina's first day of legislative session, State Senator George E. "Chip" Campsen, III of Charleston is working on a bill that could put a stop to an Aiken County potato farm.

"I coined the term 'Boats, Bass, and Bubba,'" says Campsen, who's also the Chairman of the Senate Fish, Game, and Forestry Committee. "That's who we have to look out for first and foremost."

Walther Farms, a supplier of potatoes for the Frito-Lay company, plans to pump 9.6 billion gallons of water from the South Edisto River every year for what'll be the largest potato farm in the state.

Walther Farms is already registered with DHEC to pump 6 billion gallons of water each year from the river at a site near Windsor. DHEC is currently considering another application by the farm to pump around 3 billion more gallons each year at another site further downstream in Barnwell County.

A DHEC analysis on the proposed water withdrawal says taking roughly 27 million gallons of water each day will have a "minimal near-field and far-field impact on the safe yield of the Edisto River Basin."

However, many argue the river will run dry, especially during dry summer months. DHEC's river flow data is taken from a sampling site in Denmark, which many say doesn't reflect the portion of river that runs through Aiken County.

"The bill that I'm drafting and will introduce tomorrow will deal with this specific issue and others like it," says Sen. Campsen.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) says the farm's plan to withdraw water is legal. DHEC told the crowd, under a current state law, the South Carolina Surface Water Withdrawal, Permitting Use, And Reporting Act of 2010, a farmer can withdraw massive amounts of water from rivers without telling the public, as long as they pump within what DHEC calls a "safe yield." Other factors aren't taken into account.

Although Sen. Campsen praises the Surface Water Withdrawal Act as a step in the right direction, he hopes to change the rules for large farms like Walther in a separate piece of legislation.

"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," says Campsen.

Campsen says the exact percentage hasn't been determined yet, but he says Walther Farms, along with other farms that currently withdraw large amounts of water, will be impacted by his legislation.

Additionally, Sen. Campsen says the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) did not know about Walther Farms until the news broke last month. Campsen says DNR supports revision to the Withdrawal Act. Campsen says, right now, no one really knows how natural resources will be affected, since DNR had no input in the process.

"It's definitely gotten the attention of a lot of people in the General Assembly, I anticipate that over the next few days there will be a number of discussions," adds Senator Tom Young, Jr. of Aiken.

Sen. Young won't speak on Campsen's bill yet but says he and others are already working toward a solution. Young says he plans to meet with Sen. Campsen, Sen. Brad Hutto, Sen. Nikki Setzler, and select members of the House of Representatives over the next few days.

News 12 has reached out to Walther Farms for comment multiple times but still hasn't heard back.


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