The water war between the two Carolinas returns to the spotlight today when South Carolina's top attorney delivers a progress report to the public.
Attorney General Henry McMaster will brief elected officials, conservation groups and others on the legal fight over withdrawals from the Catawba River. Previous briefings brought more than 100 people to McMaster's Columbia office, and another standing-room-only crowd is expected today.
Meanwhile, conservation groups are renewing efforts to strengthen South Carolina's oversight of water usage.
The state has no system for tracking major withdrawals from rivers and streams. A bill introduced by state Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, would change that by requiring major users to get permits specifying how much water they can draw every month.
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The case, known as South Carolina v. North Carolina, went straight to the U.S. Supreme Court last year. It contends North Carolina officials didn't have the right to approve a shift of 10 million gallons of water per day from the Catawba River system to the N.C. cities of Kannapolis and Concord.
"This is the economic issue of our time," said Mark Plowden, a spokesman for McMaster. "You cannot have an upstream neighbor dictating the prosperity of a downstream state. That's why we have so many people show up."
McMaster filed suit after negotiations with North Carolina failed. A decision could take years.
'Fair share' bill
Hayes introduced a similar legislative measure last year to require permitting for major users of water from the Catawba River, but it died on the Senate floor.
This time, Hayes said he feels more optimistic about the prospects.
"You had a brand-new lawsuit, and (its) impact was somewhat up in the air," Hayes said of last year's deliberations.
"People are already educated as to the issue. Neither side may get exactly what they want, but right now we have nothing. We've got to begin the work."
Because two-thirds of S.C. rivers have headwaters out of state, advocates say the so-called "Fair Share" bill would allow the state to protect downstream users, negotiate with neighboring states and address climate change.
"The lack of this legislation has put us at a disadvantage as we try to settle our dispute," Catawba Riverkeeper David Merryman said. "If we don't know how much is being taken out, how can we expect other states to respect our rights as downstream users?"
Under the proposed legislation, a permit would be required for withdrawals of 3 million gallons or more per month. Existing users would be grandfathered and would get permits for current withdrawal levels.
Backers say the bill would appeal to prospective businesses by ensuring a more reliable water supply.
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