Failure to ensure Union County and the Upstate have sufficient water could be just as devastating as the failure to deal with America's dependence on oil, according to members of the Union Rotary Club.
Fourth District Rep. Bob Inglis spoke to the club Wednesday about the proposed Patriot's Lake. Proponents have touted the lake as a source of water for the county and the Upstate as well as a boon for local economic development and a source of hydroelectric power. It is opposed by a coalition of environmental groups who have instead called on the county to develop the Tyger River without damming it to create the lake.
Inglis cited a concept study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which stated that the Upstate has sufficient supplies of water to meet its needs until 2030. He said it would actually make more sense to “impound” the water in Spartanburg County than Union County.
“The argument that lake supporters are making is that the Patriot's Lake could support the water need of Greenville and Spartanburg as well as Union,” he said. “That's a difficult argument to make because the Tyger River could just as easily be impounded in Spartanburg County and have the water flow downhill rather than pump it up to Greenville and Spartanburg from Union. That undercuts the argument that the lake is needed as a water resource.”
Rotarian Evans Crocker rejected the idea that the county and the Upstate have sufficient water to meet their needs until 2030. He pointed out that the drought last summer forced neighboring counties to limit water usage and caused creeks in Union County - including one on his farm - to largely dry up.
“Based on conversations with people this summer and what I actually observed on the farm this past summer, I mean we have a 15-foot (wide) creek on the farm that narrowed to about 18 inches and you could barely see it running,” he said. “Actually, you could not see it running and then you talk about everybody around us putting limits on water usage and so I disagree with that study.”
Inglis said that if in the future there is a need for an additional source of water in Union County, a smaller lake the size of Lake Bowen (1,600 acres) would be more feasible than the much larger Patriot's Lake (6,500 acres.)
Crocker countered that waiting for something to be done at some future date could be just as devastating as the federal government's failure to address America's dependence on oil. “If we wait for government to do the job for us - he mentioned 2030 - then when we do have a problem as we do with the energy crisis, then we'll be behind the eight-ball.”
Club president Buddy Smith said that failure to act could result in skyrocketing prices for water and a decline in the quality of life.
“To echo what some of our members have said is that I would believe that we have seen wells going dry, the water tables going down, we see increased usage on the city and rural water systems and we need to plan now to have ample water supply in the future,” he said. “If we don't do that we're going to find ourselves in the same situation that we do with oil.
“Jimmy Carter, back in the 1970s, said we needed to start doing something,” he said. “We shot ourselves in the foot and never did anything and now we're paying high prices for gasoline. We're going to see high prices for water, we're going to see the quality of life go down if we don't plan for water.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' concept study concluded that the lake, while technically feasible was not justified economically. Union County and the lake study committee, however, have said they will push forward with the project, pointing out that the concept study is just the first step in the process and did not provide an in-depth look at all pertinent issues related to the lake.
The next phases of the process will be a reconnaissance study which would lead to a feasibility study which would lead to an environmental impact statement. Together these phases could cost over $14 million and take a decade to complete. The county plans to seek $100,000 in federal funding for the reconnaissance study.
Beyond the actual cost of the studies and impact statement, the possibility exists that environmental groups opposed to the dam could go to court to try and block it. This could mean that it would be as much as 20 years before work could actually begin on the lake.