The environmental organizations American Rivers and the Coastal Conservation League are challenging permits issued to Duke Energy by the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) to operate five dams on the Catawba and Wateree Rivers. Duke Energy is seeking licenses to operate the dams for the next 30 or more years. DHEC’s board will consider the groups’ request to appeal the permits at a meeting Thursday in Columbia.Gerrit Jobsis of the South Carolina office of American Rivers points out that Duke Energy’s proposal runs counter to the current lawsuit that State Attorney General Henry McMaster has filed against North Carolina in the U.S. Supreme Court seeking fair allocation of water flowing from the rivers from North Carolina into South Carolina.
“If DHEC goes forward and allows the amount of water Duke has proposed to be the flow requirement it will only give South Carolina about 25 percent of the water coming down the Catawba-Wateree. We think it would be in conflict with the Attorney General’s petition and we hope that the DHEC board gives us a hearing and considers the merits of our case and the merits of what this will mean for South Carolina’s water future for all the communities up and down the Catawba and Wateree Rivers.”
Jobsis says the restriction of water flow Duke is proposing endangers wildlife and the quality of life of those who live along the rivers. “We think the water they’re going to release from the dams are not adequate for fish and wildlife, especially for the endangered Shortnose Sturgeon which is a federally endangered fish species. Also we’re concerned about the agreement to not allow as much water to be in the rivers and instead contributing to a monetary fund and protecting some shore land than actually putting water back into the rivers.”
Jobsis says all sides will be able to lay out their cases if the DHEC board decides to grant a full hearing. “We would get a hearing in front of the board and American Rivers and the Coastal Conservation League would present the information we have about why these flows are not adequate. it would also give a chance for Duke Power to present their side of the case and for DHEC staff to present their opinion on the case.”
Jobsis says if the board grants the hearing, it would be held within 60 days. If the DHEC board declines to grant a hearing the environmental groups will appeal to the state’s Administrative Law Court.