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S.C. Appeals Court backs state regulation of Catawba, Wateree rivers

Staff Report
Published Dec. 13, 2012

The South Carolina Court of Appeals ruled against Duke Energy Carolinas on Wednesday and upheld South Carolina’s right to regulate the water quality of the Catawba and Wateree rivers.

Duke seeks to renew its federal hydroelectric license and needs a state permit showing its operations won’t impact water quality.

Wednesday’s ruling overturns a judgment by the S.C. Administrative Law Court that said the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control had waived its right to issue a water quality certificate because it had not followed its own rules to make timely decisions.

Environmental groups American Rivers and the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League joined DHEC in the appeal.

“This decision protects South Carolina’s waters and the interests of the people of South Carolina in the water quality of the Catawba River and the Wateree River,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represented American Rivers. “We are thankful that the court rejected Duke’s argument that South Carolina had lost the right to protect its waters due to a technical snafu.”

A Duke spokeswoman said the utility maintains that the river environment will benefit from its proposed improvements at its dams on the river system.

“We are evaluating our options for next steps and remain focused on receiving the new Catawba-Wateree license so the entire 11-lake region can begin realizing the community benefits the new license will bring,” said Erin Culbert, a corporate spokeswoman for Duke Energy.

In 2009, the DHEC board ruled that Duke Energy’s proposed license for its Catawba-Wateree hydropower facility would lead to violations of South Carolina’s water quality standards. The conservation groups challenged the low flows of water below several of Duke’s dams, noting that Duke’s proposed operation of its hydroelectric project would cause negative effects on water quality, recreational opportunities, and the fish and other wildlife that live in the river.

Duke challenged the board’s decision in the state Administrative Law Court, which ruled that South Carolina had waived its right to protect its waters due to the way DHEC staff calculated the number of days that Duke’s application was pending.