Columbia, SC — A farmer tills the soil and plants a crop of corn, which he has to irrigate during a time of limited rainfall. The crop reaches maturity and is harvested, stored, and used to feed his dairy cattle. The milk these animals produce is marketed, processed and turned into fluid milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream and more.
Once these products are consumed, who really used the irrigation water that ensured the cultivation and harvest of the corn crop?
That’s a question we all need to consider as some legislators attempt to change the state’s permitting process for withdrawing water from rivers.
South Carolina’s Surface Water Withdrawal Act is based on sound science and environmentally friendly decisions. Permits or registrations for surface withdrawal protect the minimum stream flow, maintaining the biological, chemical and physical integrity of that water and accounting for the needs of the downstream users.
Farmers are resilient, ingenious and perhaps a little stubborn by nature. This has allowed them to continue to feed and clothe the citizens of the United States and a large part of the world during the harshest economic and naturally occurring disasters.
But S.C. agriculture has to overcome volatile, extreme and often detrimental weather conditions. Drought and changing weather patterns have made irrigation essential. Modern irrigation systems are designed for maximum water preservation and retention, with most excess returned to the surface where it originated.
Farmers were the first conservationists and benefit the most from environmentally sound practices. We do not like to irrigate, as it is expensive, time consuming and labor intensive. But a crop is a growing, breathing entity. Inability to irrigate when necessary hurts the crop and can result in a total loss. This is the difference between agriculture and all other industry. A growing plant must have water, while other businesses can tolerate a limited water supply without irreparable harm to their product.
The United States enjoys the world’s safest food supply. We must continue to let our farmers use environmentally sound and regulated irrigation practices so we don’t have to rely on foreign, sometimes unregulated, food sources.
This law is only three years old, and its sufficiency cannot be determined in such a short period. Our legislators would better spend their time on other issues than to reexamine a law that passed after careful consideration by all stakeholders.
Richard A. Doran Jr
S.C. Farm Bureau Water Use Committee