COLUMBIA -- After several groups came down on the North Carolina side of an interstate fight for water, a heavy hitter now sides with South Carolina.
South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster announced Monday U.S. Solicitor Gen. Edwin Kneedler filed an amicus brief supporting the state's stance that three groups hoping to intervene in the case -- Duke Energy, the city of Charlotte and the Catawba River Water Supply Project -- should not be allowed.
"We appreciate the support of Solicitor General Kneedler in our argument," McMaster said. "Our case is earning a great deal of attention in the country, and could very well determine the outcome of the region's water disputes for decades to come."
McMaster filed with the U.S. Supreme Court on June 7, 2007, claiming the Catawba River is an interstate resource and that North Carolina decisions to permanently remove water from the river north of the state line are unconstitutional. The case came from an interbasin transfer result passed earlier that year allowing Catawba River water to be drawn north of Lake Wylie.
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On Oct. 1 the same year, the Supreme Court granted the South Carolina motion, meaning the court would hear the case in its original jurisdiction. In the months since, the court appointed Special Master Kristin Linsley Myles to the case and the three interveners -- all siding with North Carolina -- applied to participate in the dispute.
Miles ruled in November the intervening parties should be allowed, a decision McMaster disputed stating their participation would cost more money and time for both states, and their participation is unnecessary because their stances are included in the overall position of North Carolina.
On Jan. 9, McMaster received news the court would hear his argument against the Special Master decision allowing the interveners, which McMaster called "a positive development for our side of the case." The decision Monday went a step further.
"South Carolina's exceptions to the first interim report of the Special Master should be sustained," Kneedler wrote in his report, "and the motions for leave to intervene should be denied."
Catawba Riverkeeper David Merryman, whose group opposed the transfer, agrees fewer parties mean less time and fewer dollars.
"It hopefully will help the attorney general in securing funding for this war over water," he said. "Without the unnecessary increases from some of the interveners, they can keep the costs lower by keeping this a battle between the states."
As the case proceeds, the Riverkeeper organization also continues work on an appeal of the North Carolina decision allowing the withdrawal of up to 10 million gallons of water per day for use in the North Carolina cities of Concord and Kannapolis, Merryman said. Communities from both Carolinas are part of the appeal, and Merryman's group is charged with advocating the interests of the entire Catawba River, not just the river in one state or the other.
That view, Merryman believes, also would well serve decision-makers in both cases on the Catawba.
"It's more important to think of it that way," Merryman said. "If you're not looking at it as the entire river, you're missing the majority of the picture."