The board at the Department of Health and Environmental Control voted Thursday for new rules that would apply in seven counties that have no limit on the amount of water that can be withdrawn, The State newspaper reported.
The rules would have to be approved by state lawmakers. But DHEC officials say the rules are needed as huge farms have moved into South Carolina that are using millions of gallons of water each month.
Under the new rules, mega-farms, large industries and other big water users would have to get state permission before using large quantities of water.
DHEC says groundwater levels have been dropping from the South Carolina-Georgia state line east to Lexington County.
"Populations are increasing, irrigated acres are increasing," said Alex Butler, an agency groundwater specialist. "We have a lot more demands on the water, and we don't expect that to stop."
The rules would require DHEC to review water-withdrawal plans and issue permits to those wanting to use large amounts of groundwater.
Butler said underground water levels have dropped from 5 feet (1.5 meters) to 15 feet (4.6 meters) in the area in recent years, During the summer, when large farms irrigate heavily, water levels temporarily have dropped up to 40 feet (12 meters) in some places.
The South Carolina Farm Bureau and the Palmetto Agribusiness Council have opposed the new rules, saying they would be a burden for farmers.
Information from: The State, http://www.thestate.com
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