The Department of Health and Environmental Control Board meeting in Columbia to consider a request by two environmental groups for a hearing to appeal permits issued by DHEC to Duke Energy was cancelled Thursday morning. A conference call is scheduled for a later date. The Coastal Conservation League and American Rivers says the the decision by DHEC to grant licenses to Duke Energy to operate dams in the state on the Catawba and Wateree Rivers will impact South Carolina’s water future for the next half century.Coastal Conservation League Columbia Office Director Patrick Moore says the license agreement Duke Energy is applying for and DHEC is certifying says that the South Carolina needs only 25 percent of the water that is supposed to be in the river on average and it doesn’t need to be seasonably variable. Moore says 25 percent is not a sufficient stream flow for wildlife or people who use the river and seasonal rainfall dictates that flows should vary during the year.
“Every year no matter how much it rains, it rains more in the Spring, Fall and Winter than it does in the Summer. You don’t get an even amount of rain all year long. You get more at certians and less at certain times, and that pattern that has been consistant throughout time basically is what the natural resources depend on. If you flatline it, that will have a significant impact on the fish and wildlife.”
Moore says their is concern about Duke Energy’s agreement with the state to exchange minimum water flows with the protection of some areas of shore land along the river. “The bottom line is you can’t replace water with land. once you take the water out of the stream, the land is not going to do anything to replace the benefits and services that the water provided such as recreation, fish and wildlife habitat, use for drinking water and industry downstream. You’re not replacing any of those lost values with this land protection.
Moore says Duke Energy’s proposed amount of water flow allowed into South Carolina from the rivers runs counter to the lawsuit that South Carolina has pending in the u.s. supreme court versus the state of North Carolina. “South Carolina is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to equitably allocate our water resources in the Catawba-Wateree river basin with the state of North Carolina. However we have two state agencies that have just signed off on an agreement that we only need 25 percent and that sounds like an inherent conflict on the part of the state. That is something that could impact the Supreme Court case with North Carolina.”
The two state agencies Moore is alluding to is DHEC and the Department of Natural Resources.
Moore says ultimately the decision to grant licenses to Duke Energy under the current agreement would set an unsettling precedent for possible future deals with businesses and municipalities in the state of Georgia. “It is easy to see how Atlanta or North Georgia wants to stick a pipe in the Savannah and attempt to make a similar argument that this is the setup you have with Duke Energy and we deserve a similar consideration. We’ve got lots of land. We don’t have as much water. It makes sense to protect the more finite resource.”
Moore says it is hoped that the conference call by the DHEC board will be held next week. If a hearing on the challenge is granted it would be held within 60 days. If the the board declines, the environmental groups will appeal to the state’s Administrative Law Court.