New State Water Plan focuses on regional water needs

April 17th, 2020
By Megan Chase

Changing our water management strategies for growing populations

Each day, businesses and individuals in South Carolina tap 1 billion gallons of surface water from lakes and rivers and 333 million gallons of groundwater. Considering that most of us use around 100 gallons of water per day, the collective effect of our statewide water use is often “out of sight, out of mind.” But for many areas of the state, industry, agriculture, and residents are taking out water faster than can be replenished, resulting in dangerously low river flows and depleting aquifers, which are the underground reserve tanks that hold water percolated through soil layers and that slowly refill over time. 

Another complicating factor is that our watersheds don’t often follow state boundaries. Here in the Upstate, we share the Savannah River Basin with Georgia residents, and that has led to major water disputes over time. We also share the Saluda and Broad watersheds with North Carolina. Sharing water resources across state lines requires coordinating the best-available data and strategies to fit the changing needs of each state.

We can expect that population and economic growth will increase competition for water across the state, particularly during droughts when the resource is most limited. To ensure that an adequate and reliable supply of water will be available for our homes, businesses, farms, and ecosystems for the next 50 years, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources is updating our State Water Plan.

In the past, the State Water Plan did not adequately reflect the unique needs of different regions from around the State — DNR aims to change that in this plan. The new State Water Plan will be developed from eight River Basin Plans, each led by a River Basin Council with help from SCDNR, SCDHEC, and contractors. The Upstate is located in three river basins: the Savannah, Saluda, and Broad River basins. You can find which river basin you are located in DNR’s map, or by searching the SC Watershed Atlas here. (Bonus: You can also search who the largest water users and dischargers are in your area using that website!)

From the South Carolina State Water Planning Framework. SC DNR and the State Water Planning Process Advisory Committee, October 2019.

A River Basin Plan answers four questions:

  1. What are the available water supplies and demands in the river basin?
  2. Who are the current registered (i.e., agriculture) and permitted (i.e., industry and utilities) water uses within the basin? 
  3. How will demands for water resources change over the next 50 years and will the available water supply be adequate to meet those demands?
  4. How will we adjust water management strategies to ensure the available supply meets or exceeds projected demands?

We are all responsible for the health and sustainable use of our waterways. Here's how you can help ensure the Upstate has plenty of water as the region grows:

  • Attend the public meetings that will be held in each basin. We'll keep you informed as these public meetings are scheduled — sign up for our dedicated Clean Water email newsletter, The Water Log, for email updates. 
  • Provide feedback on each River Basin Plan draft.
  • Apply to serve on the River Basin Council that will lead the planning process in each basin.
  • Tell your state representatives that water issues that matter to you and your community. Our state legislators like to hear from their constituents — and this is an election year, so they will be paying extra close attention!

Even with the uncertainty surrounding the public and economic effects of the Coronavirus, SCDNR and the State Water Plan’s advisory committee are moving ahead by establishing the Edisto River Basin Council. The PeeDee Basin is next. Upstate Forever serves on the advisory committee for this process and will share updates on meetings and projected timelines for the upcoming River Basin Councils. Click here to see progress and stay tuned for future updates from the State Water Plan stakeholder website (we are ALL stakeholders, by the way).

Megan Chase is the Clean Water Advocate at Upstate Forever and can be reached at

Photo by Mac Stone.

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