South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster estimates that legal costs to stage a water rights fight with North Carolina will be $3 million over the next three years. We think that would be money well spent.
McMaster has taken the legal battle to the U.S. Supreme Court over North Carolina's planned diversion of millions of gallons a day from the Catawba River. North Carolina would move the water to Kannapolis and Concord, two fast-growing cities that would use the water to fuel new residential and industrial development.
McMaster has asked the Legislature for $1.8 million to pay a Washington law firm, expert witnesses and a special judge to hear the case. He thinks the price tag could rise to $3 million if the case drags on.
But, he believes, that would be a small price to pay to protect drinking water, recreation, wildlife and economic development in South Carolina. We agree.
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Under current law, nothing prevents North Carolina from diverting as much water as it chooses from the Catawba to the detriment not only of South Carolina but also downstream consumers in North Carolina. After months of severe drought in Upstate South Carolina, the consequences of removing as much as 3 billion gallons of water a year from the Catawba's natural river basin could be catastrophic.
Even if the Supreme Court does not agree to hear this case, lawmakers in both states should work to resolve this issue and enact a balanced framework for deciding interstate disputes over water. Whatever happens is likely to set a precedent for jurisdiction over a river that is such a vital resource for the communities that rely on it as their chief source of water.
Considering that, $3 million is a pittance to spend to help ensure that South Carolina's case is fairly presented.
Attorney general wants $3 million to cover the legal costs of battle over Catawba's water.