• Big Ag: Farm Threatens Pristine South Carolina River

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    In the 1600's, over 220 million acres of wetlands existed in the lower 48 states (Dahl and Johnson 1991). Since then, extensive losses have occurred, with many of the original wetlands drained and converted to farmland. Today, less than half of the nation's original wetlands remain. Activities resulting in wetlands loss and degradation include: agriculture; commercial and residential development; road construction; impoundment; resource extraction; industrial siting, processes, and waste; dredge disposal; silviculture; and mosquito control (USEPA 1994b; USEPA 1993a). The primary pollutants causing degradation are sediment, nutrients, pesticides, salinity, heavy metals, weeds, low dissolved oxygen, pH, and selenium (USEPA 1994).

    Twenty-two states have lost at least 50 percent of their original wetlands. Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, and Ohio have lost more than 80 percent of their original wetlands and California and Iowa have lost nearly 99 percent (USEPA 1995). Since the 1970's, the most extensive losses of wetland acreages have occurred in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina (Dahl and Johnson 1991). Between the mid-1970's and the mid-1980's, approximately 4.4 million acres of inland freshwater wetlands (-4%) and 71,000 acres (-1.5%) of coastal wetlands were destroyed (Dahl and Johnson 1991). Inland forested wetlands were impacted the most during the mid-1970's to the mid-1980's, with a loss of 3.4 million acres (-6.2%), primarily in the Southeast (Dahl and Johnson 1991). Approximately 900,000 acres were converted from forested wetlands to other wetland types. Conversion to agricultural usage of land was responsible for 54 percent of the losses of both freshwater and coastal wetlands; drainage for urban development for 5 percent and “unspecified usage” (planned development) was responsible for 41 percent of the losses. This is in contrast to the mid-1950's to mid-1970's, when agricultural drainage of wetlands was responsible for 87 percent of the losses and urban development for 8 percent. Mega Farm Threatens Pristine South Carolina River

    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 …

    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.

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    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.

    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?

    The 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.

    Although wetlands can improve watershed water quality, their capacity to process pollutants without becoming degraded can be exceeded. Many wetlands have suffered functional degradation, although it is difficult to calculate the magnitude of the degradation. Wetlands are threatened by air and water pollutants and by hydrologic alteration (USEPA 1994b). Some researchers believe that a significant percentage of the nation's remaining wetlands has been substantially compromised hydrologically (Whigham 1988; Dahl and Johnson 1991). Measurements of the frequency or magnitude of such degradation have not been attempted to any significant degree in the United States.

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