A plan that would require new industries, power plants and other major water users to get state permits before making large withdrawals from rivers is deadlocked over how much water can be removed. We hope lawmakers make protecting natural water sources the highest priority.
Lawmakers seem to agree that steps should be taken to ensure that new industries don't dry up the state's rivers. A bill now being debated in the state Senate would require heavy water users -- industries, power plants, water treatment plants, large farms -- to get state permits before they make withdrawals from rivers of at least 3 million gallons a month.
The bill is designed to protect rivers from overuse at a time of drought and increasing demand for water. It also will show other states that South Carolina is serious about protecting rivers as they run through the state.
That, in turn, should help South Carolina make its case in water disputes with both North Carolina and Georgia. The dispute with North Carolina involves a plan to divert tens of millions of gallons a year from the Catawba River to the North Carolina cities of Kannapolis and Concord.
But a proposed amendment to the bill has stalled passage. The amendment would let new industries lower river levels to drought levels, even during times of abundant rainfall.
Critics worry that drawing too much water from rivers would harm the natural habitat along the banks, endanger wildlife and deplete water for downstream users. It also would make wastewater treatment more expensive for existing downstream sewer plants because less water would be available to dilute pollutants.
Business interests, however, claim the original bill was too conservative in the amount of water it would allow industries to withdraw.
Some form of regulation is needed. And, while businesses are entitled to a reasonable share of the state's water supply, river ecosystems belong to everyone.
Industrial development is important to the state but so is protecting the resources that help drive a booming tourism industry based on water recreation and fishing. The state can't afford to advance one at the expense of the other.
Critics of the amendment say the bill should be modified to establish minimum flows in rivers that vary, depending on the time of the year. Rivers need to be fuller during certain times of the year to allow fish to spawn and replenish growth along the banks.
We hope these issues can be resolved before the May 1 deadline to send the bill to the House. The state needs to show that it is serious about regulating water use and about protecting the environment at the same time.
Any state water regulations should ensure that natural water sources are protected.
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