Water is a critical, but limited natural resource, and is a major factor for economic development and environmental protection. An adequate amount of water for domestic use, agriculture, power generation, industry, commerce, and fish and wildlife is essential to the health, safety, and welfare of every Palmetto State citizen, as well as for future generations.
State legislation charges the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) with developing a comprehensive water resource policy or Water Plan for the State. However, SCDNR recognizes the effective management of South Carolina’s water resources is beyond the scope of any one agency or organization and requires cooperation and shared responsibility among federal, State, and local agencies, as well as public and private stakeholders.
The last State Water Plan was published in 2004; and though the Plan was never formally adopted by the General Assembly, the Plan recommended water management plans be developed for the major river basins in the State. The new State Water Planning Framework provides detailed guidance on the development of such water management plans, now formally called River Basin Plans, for the eight planning basins in the State. A key component of the new framework is the establishment of a stakeholder-led council (River Basin Council) working together to develop each of the River Basin Plans. The eight River Basin Plans, once completed, will form the foundation of a new State Water Plan which will summarize the findings and recommendations developed in the individual plans.
SCDNR developed the Planning Framework under the guidance of the State Water Planning Process Advisory Committee (PPAC). The PPAC was convened by SCDNR in March 2018 to encourage stakeholder participation and to obtain perspectives from a diverse range of stakeholders with water-related interests in the State. The Planning Framework was completed in October 2019 and is documented in a report, South Carolina State Water Planning Framework, available on the SCDNR website.
The PPAC consists of a diverse group of 19 stakeholders with water-related interests and expertise in the State. The PPAC includes representatives from public water supply, power companies, agriculture, trade, conservation organizations, State agencies, and academia.
A planning basin defines the geographic area considered by a River Basin Plan. The eight planning basins are the Broad, Edisto, Catawba, Lower Savannah-Salkehatchie, Pee Dee, Saluda, Santee, and Upper Savannah. The planning basins generally correspond to the States' eight major river basins; however, the Savannah basin has been divided into the Upper and Lower Savannah, and the Salkehatchie has been combined with the Lower Savannah to form the Upper Savannah and Lower Savannah-Salkehatchie planning basins. Each of the eight planning basins is unique, and individual River Basin Plans are needed to address basin-specific water resources and challenges.
A River Basin Plan is a collection of water management strategies designed to ensure the surface and groundwater resources of a river basin will be available for all uses for years to come, even under drought conditions. The plans will be developed for a 50-year planning horizon and will be supported by a set of hydrologic models that incorporate current water use, current permitted and registered water use, and projected water use to assess current and future water availability. River Basin Plans also will include policy, legislative, regulatory, technical, and planning process recommendations regarding the State’s water resources.
The eight River Basin Plans, once completed, will form the foundation of the new State Water Plan. The new State Water Plan, prepared by SCDNR, will be a compilation of key information from the River Basin Plans and will summarize and prioritize water policy, regulatory, and legislative recommendations.
Now that the PPAC has completed work on the Planning Framework document, the next phase of this process involves setting up stakeholder-led councils (River Basin Councils) that will create River Basin Plans for each of South Carolina’s eight planning basins. The Edisto River Basin was selected as the first basin to implement the Planning Framework and planning activities in the basin have been ongoing since 2020. River basin planning activities were initiated in the Broad and Pee Dee basins in 2022, and the Saluda basin has been selected as the next basin to implement the Planning Framework. Other basins will follow as funding becomes available. The public meetings held in various basins across the State will showcase the new State Water Planning Framework, engage stakeholders in each planning basin, and be used to solicit River Basin Council membership applications.
The public meetings scheduled for each basin will be the first opportunity for members of the public to come and learn what the Planning Framework document contains and to ask questions of SCDNR and the PPAC members. The meetings also will provide opportunities to identify members of the community interested in serving on their local River Basin Council, a working group of stakeholders with water interests in the basin. In addition, River Basin Council meetings will be open to the public and include a public comment period. The public also will have the opportunity to review and submit comments on draft River Basin Plans once developed.
Water use and planning issues tend to draw more attention during periods of extreme drought, such as our state experienced in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but planning for water use should be a priority at all times. If we wait for the next drought to begin thinking through these issues, it will be too late to make a difference. River Basin Plans and the new State Water Plan will be used to guide water resource management in our state for the next fifty years. During that time, we may experience periods of drought, or periods of higher than normal rainfall. The important thing is to have a plan in place that anticipates various conditions we might see in the future.