Experts plan for increased water demand in the Upstate as SC population grows
Story Date: 12/1/2023

Experts plan for increased water demand in the Upstate as SC population grows
Sarah Swetlik
Greenville News

The town of Pacolet is on the Pacolet River.
As South Carolina’s unprecedented growth continues, officials are reworking how the state uses and conserves its water sources.

A group of experts gathered Wednesday at the Spartanburg County Office of Emergency Services to present the first draft of a new Broad River Basin Plan for the next 50 years to accommodate growth and ensure both industries and residents have continued access to water.

River basins are areas that connect rivers, streams, rainfall and other watersheds to a common outlet. The Broad River Basin, which encompasses many bodies of water in the Upstate, provides water for both personal needs and industries such as agriculture, power and manufacturing.

As South Carolina continues to grow exponentially, experts across the state said they want to ensure resources will be available long-term.

Each of South Carolina’s eight basins will undergo specific planning changes over the next few years. When all plans are completed, they will be combined into one State Water Plan, which is expected in 2026. The Broad River Basin Plan is the second basin draft completed.

Experts within the Broad River Basin area came together to form the River Basin Council. They represented eight different water interest categories including:

Environmental interests and conservation groups 
Water recreation interests  
Agriculture, forestry and irrigation 
Water and sewer utilities 
Electric power utilities and reservoirs 
Public water interests 
Local governments 
Industry and economic development 
The River Basin Council developed recommendations in three categories: technical, regulatory and planning process improvements. The draft plan focused on drought management and optimizing existing water resources.

The council recommended the creation of a model riparian buffer ordinance for local jurisdictions, more effective water management legislation and identifying the financial impact of increased sediment, among others. They also recommended more education for residents about water conservation and resources.

Changes from the plan are recommendations rather than regulations, said Ken Tuck, the director of drinking water services at Spartanburg Water.

“We're making science-based recommendations, they're not decisions,” Tuck said, adding that the group of experts will continue to meet as other basin plans are updated.
Why is the State Water Plan being updated?  
According to the 2020 Census, South Carolina was home to more than 5.1 million people. By 2035, the South Carolina Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office predicted that more than 6.2 million residents will live in the state.

As the population grows, increased water demands are not only relevant for personal use but also for economic development in the region.

The Broad River Basin alone served 890,000 residents in 2020, which is an 11% population increase from 2010. In addition to providing residents with drinking water, basins also provide water for thermoelectric power, golf courses, manufacturing, mining and agriculture. In 2012, the gross domestic product for counties served by the Broad Basin was $110,000 million, according to the draft plan.

About 17% of South Carolina’s population is served by the Broad Basin, the third-largest basin in the state. The basin accounts for roughly 12% of the state’s total area and is about 100 miles long. It serves all of Spartanburg, Cherokee and Union counties, as well as parts of Greenville, Laurens, Chester, Fairfield, Newberry, Richland and York counties.

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The plan primarily includes recommendations to ensure that the water supply meets future demand and to manage potential droughts.

Tuck said that although water is a renewable resource, there is only so much available.

"We know with certain growth, there could be some strains on those resources, so the plan and the strategies that we've developed are really used to mitigate potential shortages into the future,” Tuck said.

The state’s first water plan was released in 1998. The second version of the plan was released in 2004 and recommended region-specific planning for the future, said Scott Harder, the hydrology program manager for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

"Water planning needs to be done by more than just DNR, but it's going to involve a lot of different groups and incorporate a lot of different water use interests, so stakeholders became a big theme," Harder said.

By looking at the current water supply, drought history and future population growth, the River Basin Council developed projections for water use and modeled two potential scenarios. One scenario assesses moderate demand for water resources and another for more aggressive demand.

The goal is to update these plans every five years. While the current plan focuses on protecting water quantity, future plans could look at water quality, Harder said.

"Quality and quantity are closely related," Harder said. “It's focused on the quantity aspect with the goal of, in future iterations of planning, that we would bring in more things like water quality, so it'd be a more integrated resource approach."

What does the Broad Basin use water for and how much water is available to use?
Users withdraw about 809 million gallons of water per day from the Broad Basin. 

Thermoelectric power involves electricity generation through heat and steam. Thermoelectric withdrawals, including those from the V.C. Summer Power Station, account for 711 million gallons per day, or about 87.9% of the total daily water use.

Though thermoelectric power withdraws the largest amount of water, the majority of the water is returned to the basin. According to the draft plan, about 84% of the water withdrawn for thermoelectric power is returned to the basin, meaning only about 16% is consumed.

The second-largest amount of water withdrawn goes to the public water supply and accounts for 93.5 million gallons per day or 11.5%.

Industries, companies and other groups that withdraw water over a certain amount are required to obtain registrations or permits to use water from the basin. Currently, 1,542.1 million gallons per day are permitted for withdrawal from the basin. Only 52% of the permitted total is currently in use.

The two growth scenarios modeled by the River Basin Council account for moderate and high demand.

The moderate demand scenario assumed normal weather conditions and moderate growth projections. According to the moderate scenario, by 2070, withdrawals from the Broad Basin would reach 932 million gallons per day, which would still only account for 60% of current permitted amounts.

The high-demand scenario assumed a hot, dry climate and more intense economic and population growth. According to the high-demand scenario, withdrawals from the basin would reach 1,113 million gallons per day, accounting for about 70% of permitted use.

According to the River Basin Council, the high-demand scenario would be unlikely to occur for all residents over an extended period of time.

As other basins across the state are updated, the River Basin Council is seeking local input from residents within the Broad Basin area.

The council will be accepting public comments on the plan for the next month, ending on Jan. 2, 2024. Comments can be emailed to