While South Carolina failed to get an injunction against North Carolina's plan to transfer up to 10 million gallons of water a day from the Catawba River to Concord and Kannapolis, the case has moved a step closer to being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In June, S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster submitted a request to the Supreme Court to decide whether North Carolina has the right to move millions of gallons of water daily from the Catawba to two cities outside the river basin. These two fast-growing cities would use the water to fuel new residential and industrial development.
Last week, the court ruled that North Carolina must reply to a lawsuit filed by South Carolina seeking to prevent the transfer. South Carolina argues that it is unconstitutional for North Carolina to unilaterally re-route water from a river shared by two the two states.
The next possible step might be for the court to assign a special master, often a retired federal judge, to hear the case and make recommendations to the Supreme Court. The court then could accept, deny or amend the findings of the special master.
The court also could dismiss the case outright before it is assigned a special master. But the court also could agree to hear the case. If so, it could rule as early as this month or put off a ruling until the next court cycle.
Some legal experts say that in cases involving water disputes between states, the state with original jurisdiction usually prevails. In this case, however, North Carolina proposes to drain as much as 3 billion gallons of water a year from the Catawba and move it outside of the natural river basin.
It takes little imagination after weeks of severe drought in Upstate South Carolina to recognize that removing that much water from the river could have a sizable impact on downstream users. We hope the Supreme Court will agree to hear this case and offer a precedent-setting ruling that would protect the interests of South Carolinians.
A significant coalition of diverse groups has formed to fight this proposal. Sixteen towns and counties in the river basin -- on both sides of the state line -- have objected to the proposed water transfer.
Even if the Supreme Court does not agree to hear this case, lawmakers in both states could be pressured to enact a balanced framework for deciding interstate disputes over water. Fairness dictates that North Carolina should not have sole jurisdiction over a river that is such a vital resource for South Carolina, and for York County in particular.
U.S. Supreme Court might agree to consider dispute over taking water from Catawba.
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