Big Ag Mega Farm Threatens Pristine South Carolina River

The Edisto River, South Carolina
image source

By Joe Wright

Even though climate change has taken center stage in the nation’s environmental debate, the well-documented and persistent threats of factory farming continue to accumulate across the country.

Whether it’s the health effects of production and run-off from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (as well as associated conditions of animal cruelty), the deadly introduction of GMOs and associated toxins, harassment of family farms, or Big Ag’s undeniable control over regulatory agencies like the EPA, FDA and USDA, there might be no greater threat than that of poisoning our dwindling fresh water supply.

The sickness of factory farming literally knows no bounds, and the corporate interests that are at the helm are practicing what former economic hitman John Perkins calls a “death economy.” A current battle taking place along a small pristine river in South Carolina further illustrates this point.

A microcosm of the overall threat to fresh water is currently being documented by long-time South Fork resident Doug Busbee who has intimate knowledge of what is at stake if a planned factory potato farm takes root in Aiken County – it will be South Carolina’s largest, and will require 9.6 billion gallons of water annually to irrigate.

Below is the “before” view of this scenic, tranquil river, which also houses various delicate species. For those who may not appreciate the wildlife aspect, the points made in the second video speak directly to the disparity between what the public and ordinary businesses are allowed to do vs. the ease with which Big Ag can just march in and start leveling a place. As Busbee says, “One chicken house requires public notification” However, as The State reports:

Unlike other businesses, farm corporations can siphon huge quantities from rivers without telling the public. And while the state will review plans to take water for farming, the law doesn’t allow the public an opportunity to challenge the work before the Department of Health and Environmental Control board, the agency says.

In contrast, other businesses that want to begin withdrawing large quantities for the first time will need permits that require public notice and a full review. In both cases, the law does not apply to anyone withdrawing under 3 million gallons per month.

Here we can see crews clearing the area as they begin construction:

And here we see an aerial view of the size of the farm – which spans an estimated “thousands of football fields” (3,700 acres) – and the pressure it will no doubt exert upon this relatively small and fragile ecosystem.

Again, for those who are not concerned about the environmental and health impacts to the non-human, concern should then be focused on the potential for contamination of the drinking supply.

Comments from two other locals – one self-described as not being a “tree-hugger” – illustrate practical concerns, as well as a healthy attention to self-preservation:

George Young, a 56-year-old Edisto basin landowner who accompanied Busbee down the South Fork last week, said he recently wrote Gov. Nikki Haley asking for help to stop the potato farm’s water withdrawals.

His letter . . . said smaller agricultural withdrawals already are affecting the South Fork. So he questions how further withdrawals from a mega farm will affect wildlife and fish. Consistent water levels, for instance, help certain species of fish to spawn.

Young, like others, also is concerned about possible fertilizer and pesticide runoff to the river.

Wagener resident Murphy Lybrand, 48, echoed the sentiments of many neighbors.

“I’m not against agriculture, but I’m against sucking the river dry,” Lybrand said with a grim smile.

But, once again, government regulatory agencies in charge of protecting land and health are welcoming Big Ag with open arms, typically for the stated reason of enhancing the overall economy. Although, in this case, it has been admitted that not many new jobs will be provided and that most of the benefit will come from the local purchase of supplies and fertilizer. However, also typical is a lack of transparency and independent studies that could properly evaluate the project and inform the public accordingly:

DHEC insists the potato farm won’t hurt the river. The company said it followed the 2010 water law when it approved the mega potato farm’s license last spring. DHEC conducted an in-house study, as required, that found the South Fork of the Edisto has plenty of water to accommodate Walther Farm’s withdrawals, records show.

The agency is currently assessing a second proposed withdrawal of about 3 billion gallons per year from the South Fork at an approximately 1,500-acre site in nearby Barnwell County. As with the first withdrawal request, the public wasn’t notified of the plan.

How many times have we heard assurances from government “studies” that turned out later to be exactly the opposite?

How Clean is Your Water? Test it with the Drinking Water TestThe public is rightfully skeptical, if not outright angry, as are environmental activists. A lawsuit is likely forthcoming. And, funnily enough, Walther Farm is moving into this area of the southeast from the west due to what they say is a depletion of the aquifers by farmers.

With the lack of proper oversight and a precedent being set along the Edisto, the death economy continues its march into South Carolina in search of abundance . . . Frito Lay should be pleased.

Fresh clean water is essential to life. It seems that a resource so vital should not be corralled, controlled, or corrupted by any corporation or government. However, fresh water supplies are under assault. The powerful film Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story documents the connection between local abuses and the cascading effects that have lead to dead zones from the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s an extreme example of the widespread threat we face.

Please also visit the wonderful gallery of 24 photos that further documents the area and the plans for transformation:

Recently by Joe Wright:


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