One of the greatest tools we as South Carolinians have for safeguarding our drinking water, protecting our natural resources and preserving our history and heritage will shut down on June 30, 2018 unless reauthorized before then by the South Carolina General Assembly. It’s called the South Carolina Conservation Bank, and if you are like most South Carolinians, you have never heard of it, or know about the vital role it plays.
Bills were introduced this year in the South Carolina House and Senate to provide the needed funding, instead of waiting until next, but the legislation stalled. This was primarily due to the actions of the Bank’s main opponent, Representative Brian White, of Anderson, who has concerns about the way the Bank is managed. Despite vigorous efforts to reauthorize the Bank, its funding and very existence is in jeopardy. There is little question that losing the Conservation Bank would harm our economy, environment and quality of life, now and for future generations.
The South Carolina Conservation Bank was established in 2002 to improve the quality of life in our state, by providing funding for land conservation projects that include farms, forests, waterways, historical properties, archeological sites and urban parks. It’s one of the most effective and successful conservation programs in the country. To date, it has protected over 280,000 acres across South Carolina.
Until now, the Bank has been funded from a share of the state’s deed recording fee revenues. Of every $1.35 collected by the state, $0.25 is credited to the Conservation Bank Trust Fund, to be used to ensure that lands with great conservation or historic significance are not developed. The authors of the original legislation creating the bank saw this as a sensible way to fund conservation projects, because the fees are collected when land is sold, and the sales are often to developers.
State law prohibits the Bank from owning land. What the Bank does instead is help fund purchases, often for new or expanded public parks and recreation areas. Iconic places like Stumphouse Mountain in Oconee County, and Jones Gap State Park and Lake Conestee Nature Park in Greenville County, have been opened or expanded thanks to Bank funding.
The South Carolina Conservation Bank benefits all South Carolinians. If you like to hike, hunt, fish, bird watch or just enjoy the natural beauty of our state, you benefit from the lands, waterways and wildlife it protects. If you don’t do any of those things, but you value safe drinking water, a good economy and a high quality of life in South Carolina, you still benefit. Here are some of the key areas of benefit:
Helps ensure clean drinking water
- One half of all South Carolinians get their drinking water from groundwater, and the other half get their drinking water from rivers, lakes and streams. The Conservation Bank protects many of the watersheds that are the sources of this water, leveraging federal and private funding. This also helps ensure that our rivers, streams and lakes are safe for public use and recreation, such as fishing, swimming and boating.
Improves our quality of life
- Quality of life ranks high among the main reasons people choose to move to South Carolina, yet the land on which this quality of life depends is a limited commodity. South Carolina is among the nation’s 10 fastest growing states. Our population will grow by another 25% in another 15 years. To support that growth we will need 525,000 new houses; 40 million feet of new office space; 13,000 hotel rooms; and 50% more paved roads. The Bank helps control this growth by protecting our land from over development.
Helps us achieve balanced growth
- There are now more than 4 million people living in South Carolina, and our population continues to grow at the rate of 104 people every day. By 2030, the state’s population will exceed 5.5 million. This puts great pressure on our drinking water supplies, wildlife habitats, and outdoor recreational areas. The Bank helps us continue to grow, but at the same time to protects our forests, farmlands, green spaces and historic sites.
While there will be many budgeting needs when the South Carolina General Assembly reconvenes in January of 2018, one of the top priorities has to be reauthorizing the South Carolina Conservation Bank.