In South Carolina, Mega-Farms Face Legislative Scrutiny From Some Lawmakers

Some state legislators are pushing for tighter controls on mega-farms that have irked neighbors, siphoned billions of gallons of water from rivers and aquifers, and sprayed chemicals on vegetable fields.

“Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, has demanded a hearing on a bill that would require greater scrutiny of mega-farms seeking to withdraw large amounts of water from rivers.

“Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, said he’ll push for a hearing on his own bill to limit river withdrawals. And Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, introduced a bill last week to limit crop-dusting near rural schools.”

The article stated that, “Meanwhile, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control is considering groundwater regulations for a swath of counties, between Aiken and Columbia, that now place no limits on how much farms or industries can siphon from the ground.

Whether the proposals will go anywhere depends on how much opposition comes from the S.C. Farm Bureau, an influential organization at the state Legislature. The Farm Bureau has in the past opposed tighter controls on big farms that take water from rivers, saying it has seen no proof of any problems.”

Mr. Fretwell noted that, “The greatest concerns have centered on a handful of sprawling farms, operated by out-of-state agribusinesses, in eastern Aiken and Barnwell counties. The agribusinesses have purchased about 10,000 acres, clearing at least 6,000 acres of trees since arriving in South Carolina about four years ago, The State newspaper found. Farms approaching 1,000 acres dwarf the average farm in South Carolina, which is about 200 acres.”

The State article added that, “So far, the outcry for change has come mostly from grassroots citizens groups, such as Save Windsor and Friends of the Edisto. Major environmental groups have been focused on other issues at the State House.

“At the same time, the Farm Bureau has said it won’t endorse any change in state law without a compelling, scientific reason to do so. A report, commissioned by state agencies, is expected out this year. It will provide more data on how much water might be at risk.”

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