Edisto River – Canadys, South Carolina
South Carolina | SC Picture Project | Colleton County Photos | Edisto River
At 206 miles, the Edisto River – named for the Edisto Indians – is the longest undammed blackwater river in North America. It begins in Saluda County and Edgefield County and flows Southeast through 10 more South Carolina counties until it reaches Edisto Beach and empties into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Edisto has many access sites and is a favorite among anglers and kayakers. The Edisto River Canoe and Kayak Trail is one of the most popular water trails in the state and also one of the three South Carolina rivers that make up the ACE Basin, one of the largest protected estuarine systems on the East Coast.
The waters of the Edisto have come under threat from a large agribusiness that plans to use the river to irrigate abutting farm land. Walther Farms, the Michigan-based company that began planting the state’s largest potato farm in early 2014, settled with the non-profit group Friends of the Edisto in January of 2014 in an effort to protect the waters of the South Fork of the river.
The potato farm spans more than 5,000 acres in Aiken and Barnwell counties. The agreement between Walther Farms and Friends of the Edisto reduces the amount of water the farm can siphon from the river by two thirds of the volume originally planned.
The company planned to withdraw 9.6 billion gallons of water per year to irrigate crops at both the Barnwell County site and the Aiken County site. Now Walther Farms will withdraw no more than 3 billion gallons of water per year to use solely at the Aiken County farm site and will use only groundwater – or water beneath the earth’s surface – to irrigate the Barnwell site.
The concern many conservationists have regarding the use of such a large quantity of the river’s water is how the resulting low water level would affect the Edisto’s ecosystem, including severely limiting the flow to the ACE Basin. Recreational activities such as boating and fishing also could be affected by consistent low water levels.
Striped bass, American shad, and longnose gar inhabit the waters of the Edisto along with endangered shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon. Diverse wildlife, including the swallow-tailed kite, live among its floodplain communities and make the river a popular water trail for birdwatchers.
The South Fork of the Edisto River was listed as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers in 2014 by the conservation group, American Rivers. Though a compromise was reached between Walther Farms and Friends of the Edisto, many argue that state legislation is too weak to continuously protect the river from similar siphoning attempts by other farming companies.
With boat landings and access points to the river found throughout the state, the Edisto River remains dotted with colorful kayaks transporting lovers of the outdoors along its majestic blackwater.
Edisto River Map
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