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New DHEC Requirements for Water Withdrawals

In July 2016, Aiken County Council passed a resolution asking the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control to designate portions of Aiken County as a Capacity Use Area, a designation that requires water users to receive a permit to withdraw large amounts of groundwater. As the resolution put it, "fresh drinking water is a precious natural resource that must be protected for future generations, economic development and agricultural use."

Water withdrawal map 

In November 2018, DHEC created a new Capacity Use Area, but it turned out to be a much bigger change than Aiken County requested: the entirety of Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Calhoun, Lexington and Orangeburg counties — a heavily agricultural part of the state, much of which is located in the Edisto River basin.

This was the first time this type of regulation, which is intended to conserve aquifers and has been around since the 1970s, came this far inland. Before this, four Capacity Use Areas existed, covering 15 of the counties closest to the coast. In these designated areas, any entity withdrawing more than 3 million gallons of groundwater per month needed a permit.

Ahead of creating the new area, DHEC issued a report of groundwater conditions of the seven counties in question. It noted that for some of the area's aquifers, or layers of water-bearing rock, groundwater level declines had been recorded in amounts of up to 15 feet since 2001. During this time, the area saw growth in the number of high-capacity wells constructed, the report said, and growth in groundwater demand was expected to continue into the foreseeable future.

While more of the state is now in a Capacity Use Area, the remaining counties that have no restrictions on withdrawing water still have reporting requirements for water withdrawals. In those counties, users must register wells or well systems that will use more than 3 million gallons monthly. All groundwater withdrawers everywhere in South Carolina must report annual water usage to DHEC.

For surface water withdrawals, it doesn't matter where the user is located — all of them must seek permits if withdrawing more than 3 million gallons monthly and register if they use less than this amount. All of them must also report annual usage.

Learn more about groundwater use reporting and permitting, and find requirements for each county and annual withdrawal reports here.