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Lawsuit settled over SC potato farm

AIKEN (AP) — A South Carolina environmental group and a Michigan-based potato farm have agreed to settle a lawsuit over the potential withdrawal of billions of gallons of water from the Edisto River.

The Friends of the Edisto and Walther Farms reached a compromise on the environmental group’s challenge to the Department of Health and Environmental Control’s approval of the farm’s water withdrawal plan.

In April, the company had gotten DHEC’s permission to take billion gallons of water from the river to irrigate its 3,700-acre Windsor potato farm located in Aiken County, which is expected to be the largest potato farm in the state.

In the new agreement, Walther Farms said it will cut its initial surface water withdrawal in half.

The Friends of the Edisto agreed to refrain from taking further legal action that would delay the farm from installing wells for irrigation purposes or planting crops in coming months.

The agreement says the farm will withdraw its second pending surface water withdrawal registration application for its Wiley Fork Farm, located at the Aiken and Barnwell County line, and only use groundwater for that site for a year.

The farm says it will install a stream flow gauge at its point of intake on the South Fork of the Edisto River and observe a 12-month moratorium on any new applications for water withdrawals..

Friends of the Edisto President Tim Rogers said in a statement that Walther Farms approached his organization several weeks ago and that he thinks the settlement covers several important points and is a positive step forward.

“They have pledged to be good neighbors and work with their neighbors to help conserve our precious natural resources,” Rogers said. “Trust takes time to build. But I have become convinced of their sincerity, and I am impressed by their professional skills. Time will tell, but I will make the effort to give them the benefit of the doubt.”

According to a release from Walther Farms, its proposals amount to about $500,000 worth of changes to its initial irrigation plans.

Walther Farms CEO Jason Walther said his family wants to work with the community and was pleased with the settlement.

“We believe in open, honest communication and value the importance of having all parties engaged in conversation,” Walther said. “Our family understands and appreciates the concerns expressed and wants to help demonstrate our commitment to working tighter as friends to preserve South Carolina’s natural resources now and for future generations.”

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