{ SC's April Calendar + Our Featured SC Event }

April 23 - May 3  —  This year's April Calendar of SC Events is brought to you by the Great Anderson County Fair, a two-weekend event which features daily concerts, amusement rides, an antique tractor show, quilt displays, laser tag, pig races, a petting zoo, clowns and magicians, and a butterfly garden.

{ Protecting the Edisto: The High Costs of Low Water }

At more than 250 miles, the Edisto River – named for the Edisto Indians who first inhabited its shores – is the longest undammed blackwater river in North America. It is located entirely within the borders of our state, beginning in Saluda County and Edgefield County, then flowing southeast through 10 more South Carolina counties until it reaches Edisto Beach and empties into the Atlantic Ocean.

( Tom Taylor of Greenville, 2013 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent )

As it nears its terminus, the Edisto adjoins two neighboring rivers, the Ashepoo and Combahee, to create a shared watershed called the ACE Basin. Among the largest and most important natural areas remaining on the East Coast, the basin serves as both a National Wildlife Refuge and a National Estuarine Research Reserve. Endeavors to conserve the area, which boasts bottomland forests and broad floodplains, began in 1989 and now protect more than 217,000 acres. This success has been achieved through joint efforts by the SC Department of Natural Resources, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, nonprofit agencies such as Ducks Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy, and, most notably, private landowners. Unfortunately, the protections afforded the ACE Basin do not keep the Edisto River – or any other SC river – safe from industry and development.

( Tom Taylor of Greenville, 2012 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent )

Recently the waters of the Edisto came under threat when a large, out-of-state agribusiness announced 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, amassed more than 5,000 acres in Aiken and Barnwell counties. It originally planned to withdraw 9.6 billion gallons of water per year to irrigate its crops – an amount which, during the summer when river levels run lower, would have reduced the Edisto's flow by 35 percent.

( Tom Taylor of Greenville, 2009 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent )

Since South Carolina's legislature largely exempts mega-farms from laws protecting our state's rivers, the non-profit group Friends of the Edisto River brought suit against the agricultural giant. Although the two parties eventually settled and Walther Farms agreed to cut its withdrawal by two-thirds, many argue that our laws are too lax to prevent similar attempts. For example, our existing water withdrawal law, passed in 2010, stipulates that large agribusinesses do not need permits to take a river's water, nor do they need to give public notice. Further, these corporations may withdraw the same volume of water from a site with no regard to water flow, meaning they can siphon as much water when the river is low as when it is high. Finally, the law sets the "safe yield" – or total amount of water that can be extracted from a river in any given year – at 80%.

( Tom Taylor of Greenville, 2008 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent )

The concern among conservationists is that, despite the compromise, the potential low water level could still harm the Edisto's ecosystem and limit its flow to the ACE Basin. In fact, the South Fork of the Edisto River was listed as America's sixth most endangered river in 2014 by the watchdog group American Rivers. The group notes that the Edisto River and its watershed are home to five endangered species - the loggerhead turtle, red-cockaded woodpecker, shortnosed sturgeon, southern bald eagle, and wood stork. In total, scientists have identified 87 freshwater and 120 saltwater species of fish in the waters of the Edisto, and on terra firma the river supports 94 natural ecological communities. Diverse wildlife, including the swallow-tailed kite and wild turkeys, live within its floodplain and make the river a popular spot for birdwatchers, hunters, and hikers.

( Tom Taylor of Greenville, 2012 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent )

Conservationists aren't the only ones who are worried, however. Local farmers fear the water needed to sustain their crops will be depleted, while others depend on the river to supply their drinking water during periods of drought. Boaters, fishermen, and purveyors of ecotourism could be affected as well. These groups understand the devastation that low water levels could cause. South Carolina's 2010 law prevents over-siphoning by local industries and landowners while allowing large agricultural corporations to take what they need.

( Tom Taylor of Greenville, 2013 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent )

In September of 2014 a lawsuit was filed by five South Carolina property owners to challenge the law and require corporations to obtain permits for withdrawal and abide by time limits, helping to protect not just the Edisto, but all South Carolina rivers. To date, the plantiffs, who are represented by the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, are still awaiting trial. In the meantime, their request for an injunction has been denied.

{ Tom Taylor: SC Photographer Extraordinaire }

As you can see from the photos above, Tom Taylor is a big fan of the Edisto River. In fact, the Edisto is probably his most photographed subject, and he has paddled on the river regularly for years. This month, we'd like to introduce Tom, who has been a wonderful contributor to the South Carolina Picture Project.

Here at the South Carolina Picture Project, Tom Taylor was the nicest surprise! We first encountered him via Flickr, when we asked to use one of his images. We were delighted when he wrote back and said he knew SCIWAY well and had been following us for years. It turns out Tom and the founder of our website, Rod Welch, have a lot in common. Both are avid fans of South Carolina's history, and both worked many years as IT directors in South Carolina schools.

( Tom Taylor, Kayaking the Edisto River )

Since working with Tom, we have come to admire him greatly. Tom was once a teacher, which only endears him to us more. In the spirit of generosity and the greater good that so many educators seem to possess, Tom has not only become a trusted source of photos but also a trusted source of knowledge. In fact, we often go to him with questions when we get stumped, and he is an especially good source of information when it comes to his favorite places – old schools, rivers, and South Carolina ghost towns.

Interestingly, Tom maintains one of the best blogs in the state, Random Connections, which is much like the South Carolina Picture Project in its purpose and has more of Tom's excellent photos. We highly recommend this site to anyone interested in South Carolina's history – you'll be hooked!

It is a pleasure to work with someone who cares as much about South Carolina's heritage as her beauty. Tom's photos and research give so much to the people of the Palmetto State. He is truly making a difference in terms of the documentation of our state, both culturally and geographically, and for this we are so grateful. Thank you, Tom!

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