Wednesday, June 30, 2010

New South Carolina Law Requires Permits for Water Withdrawals

By Jessie King

On June 11, 2010, Governor Sanford signed into law S452, a bill amending the South Carolina Surface Water Withdrawal and Reporting Act, §49-4-10 et seq. (Supp 2008) (the “Act”). The law takes effect on January 1, 2011.

The amendments to the Act are designed to stop the taking of water from South Carolina in unlimited quantities, protect existing water users, and maintain seasonal river water flows.

The amended Act creates a regulatory permitting system for water withdrawal. The need to regulate water withdrawals came to a head recently after recurring droughts, legal battles with neighboring states over shared water supplies, and population growth.

Prior to the amendment, persons wishing to take millions of gallons of water out of South Carolina rivers and lakes needed only to “register” with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), report the quantity of water withdrawn and the method for measuring the quantity, and notify DHEC of any change in the information provided in the previous registration and reports. S.C. Code Ann. §§ 49-4-50 & -70 (Supp. 2008). Now, a permitting scheme will replace these registration requirements and allow the State to limit water withdrawals.

Among other things, the amended Act does the following:
• Renames the Act the “South Carolina Surface Water Withdrawal, Permitting, Use and Reporting Act.”
• Requires persons withdrawing three million gallons or more a month to apply for and receive a permit from DHEC.
• Requires agricultural surface water withdrawers to register their use with DHEC.
• Requires existing registered withdrawers to be grandfathered in at their authorized quantities.
• Requires DHEC to consider the biological, chemical, and physical state of the waterway and the potential effect on the public before issuing new permits.
• Provides public hearing procedures for new surface water withdrawal permit applications, including applications for interbasin transfers and applications for significant water quantity increases to existing permits.
• Lays out requirements to protect fish and wildlife and downstream users. For example, it sets seasonably variable minimum in-stream flows for new users that are intended to protect migrating fish populations and floodplain wetlands.
• Requires permittees to prepare and maintain operational and contingency plans to promote an adequate water supply when the flow of the surface water is less than the minimum instream flow for the surface water segment.

To see the full-text version of the Bill, click here: