For almost 300 years, life in Orangeburg has centered around the black waters of the North Edisto River.

The General Assembly created the Orangeburgh Township along the river in 1730, and 220 German-Swiss settlers arrived there in 1735, making their homes near its banks. They found the river to be a ready supply of water and a means of getting their crops to market in Charleston.

Today, the river continues to provide the city with a plentiful water supply.

The North Edisto flows through the 175-acre Edisto Memorial Gardens and serves as a resource for recreation and other activities. A 2,600-foot boardwalk allows visitors to stroll along the river and neighboring swamp.

Some local folks remember taking swimming lessons in the river and attending events at the old pavilion where the Orangeburg County Fine Arts Center now stands.

On Saturday, the gardens and arts center will again be the scene for a gathering on the river, this one by the leading group devoted to its preservation. Friends of the Edisto (FRED) is holding its Fall Membership Celebration from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

There will be plenty of the usual fun, food and entertainment.

Singer-songwriter Chris Colton of Columbia will perform, followed by Boomtown Waifs band in the afternoon. Barbecue from Dukes of Ridgeville, face painting by Miss Chris and animal shows by Sean Poppy of the Savannah River Ecology Lab are on the menu for the day. The event is free for FRED members. Non-members can join for $10 at the event.

The celebration will turn serious around noon when a panel examines water-policy issues. Participating will be Myra Reece, director of environmental affairs for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control; Alex Pellet, S.C. Department of Natural Resources hydrologist; Rep. James Smith, Democratic candidate for governor and a FRED board member; Tim Rogers, FRED president (moderator), and Dough Busbee, an Edisto River stakeholder and advocate.

Hugo Krispyn, who works outreach for FRED, said the state’s Surface Water Withdrawal Act will be a primary topic, as will DHEC’s ongoing meetings about groundwater usage.

FRED’s position is that the water law is not adequate to protect rivers, and should groundwater flows be expanded, problems could get worse. Surface water and groundwater must be addressed as inherently related issues, Krispyn said.

“We think it is important to maintain minimum flows,” he said. And groundwater protection is a necessity.

If the water law is not revised, the state ultimately will end up allocating more water than is available. The time to make good policy is when we have plenty of water, he said.

FRED is not against farmers, Krispyn stressed. “We want to partner with agriculture in this. Agriculture needs to know what they can use.”

And agriculture wants also to protect the water supply – both surface and groundwater – as endangering it puts farming at risk.

If you’re interested in learning more, put FRED on the agenda for Saturday. And in the process, you can enjoy being in a beautiful place in Orangeburg along the banks of the longest free-flowing black water river in the United States.

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