Wednesday, January 15, 2014

From the House

Bluffton Today

As we kick off the session this week, there are a number of issues that need attention, along with the usual housekeeping matters. One of the most important has to do with water usage. Water, whether salt, brackish, or fresh, has been on our radar for many years. We were fortunate to have leaders such as Dean Moss, the recently retired head of the Beaufort Jasper Water and Sewer Authority. Dean was so efficient in his work that I think many of us did not properly appreciate how thorny water usage, and the delivery of an abundant supply of fresh water has become. We have been negotiating with our neighboring states for over a generation about aquifer and surface water access.

Estuarine water resources, those fingers of the ocean that make up half of our county at high tide, have been declining in quality as our portion of the Lowcountry has attracted more development. Because of this decline, the last working oyster factory in the state is in Bluffton, on the May River, ably managed by Town Councilman Larry and Tina Toomer. Passionate protectors of our waters over the years have included Nancy Schilling, founder of Friends of the Rivers, Dave Harter, head of the Hilton Head Sportfishing Club, the late Bill Marscher, and the very-much-alive Jimmy McIntire, a tenacious bulldog on water issues.

The most recent dustup involves the Edisto River, which flows through the heart of the state, culminating as the main contributor of fresh water to the ACE Basin. The Edisto is the longest and most important blackwater river in North America. If any of you have kayaked or canoed the Edisto, you know what a treasure this waterway is.

According to my good friend, Rep. Bill Taylor (R-Aiken), the issue turns on a massive proposed withdrawal from the headwaters of the Edisto, for the purpose of irrigating the largest potato farm in the state, owned by a Michigan concern, Walther Farms. DHEC has permitted the company to withdraw between 6 and 9.6 billion gallons of water from the river each year. Residents say the river is just a trickle most summers.

I imagine we will be giving our “River Law,” eight years in the making, another look this session. As there are more and more of us competing for use of our water resources, whether for recreation, industry, or agriculture, there will be more of these conflicts. Unfortunately, this is not just a South Carolina problem, it is worldwide. You, of course, will hear about our version as the matter progresses.

Recently, I received an email from the good folks over at Citizens Against Domestic Violence (CODA). They wanted to make certain that I was aware that two bills had been prefiled by my friend, Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg). The bills essentially close two loopholes in the state code dealing with domestic violence. As of this writing, I have a call in to Gilda and I have passed the email along to my friend and colleague, Rep.Weston Newton (R- Bluffton) who sits on Judiciary Committee, which will handle these bills.

It is no secret that our state, for whatever reasons, is over represented in the number of domestic violence cases finding their way to our courts, compared to other states, both in our region and the country at large. CODA serves victims of domestic abuse in our four county area with excellent services and support. They are putting on a run/walk fundraiser in a few weeks. If you are a runner or walker, or simply want to aid in this good work, go to for info on this walk/run for an excellent cause. The event is February 15 in Beaufort. Hope to see you there.