May 25, 2023
Greenville Water has received many accolades over the years as the largest water utility in the state, whether that be for excellent utility management, financial excellence, or best-tasting water. While we are proud of these achievements, we could not have seen this level of success without the foundations of water quality protection that were treasured by the City of Greenville Commission of Public Works from the beginning.
Thirty years ago, the Commission paved the way for quality water for future generations through the permanent protection of the Greenville Watersheds in a conservation easement with The Nature Conservancy South Carolina.
Greenville Water, one of only three water utilities in the country to fully own its watersheds, had spent the first 70+ years strictly maintaining Table Rock and North Saluda to prevent environmental damage from development and outside visitors, both to protect the water quality of the reservoirs and the various communities of plants and animals that depend on it.
After maintaining this management attitude for more than half a century, it was assumed that the lands would always remain in Greenville Water's care.
It was only in 1992 that this previously unfounded concern was made apparent when a developer made an offer to buy a portion of the North Saluda watershed for property development.
At the time, the City of Greenville and the Commission had to take this offer into consideration. Groups formed in opposition to the proposed sale and endeavored to build public awareness of the repercussions that the sale could precede.
As an entity that both serves the public interest and had been committed to the same values as its predecessors, the Commission in turn formed the Greenville Watershed Study Committee to survey the Table Rock and North Saluda properties. The Study Committee invited various experts in hydrology, biology, and geology to assess the value of the properties and offer their respective opinions regarding the protection of the watersheds.
The culmination of the survey findings supported the complete protection of the watersheds as a whole, given the properties' unique ecosystems that support many various species due to Greenville Water's endeavors to blockade any proprietary developments that would hinder them.
While the leadership of Greenville Water was all in agreement that it is in the community's best interest to protect these lands, there remained the potential issue that future commissioners could forgo the original sentiment of the utility in favor of governmental development if Greenville Water should become a formal government department rather than a separate utility.
Moreover, in 1991 South Carolina passed the Conservation Easement Act, which stipulates the means by which a property could fall under a conservation easement. A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a government agency and a landowner which restricts development on the property. The partnership between Greenville Water as the landowner and another agency best fit the interests set forth by the Commission, the City, and the community which displayed great support for the protection of the watersheds in light of the potential land sale.
In May of 1993, the state approved the conservation easement agreement between Greenville Water and the South Carolina Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, a national organization committed to the conservation of natural resources (learn more). This easement stipulates the permanent protection of Greenville Water's lands from any future development whatsoever, even if future leadership should show interest otherwise.
Through this partnership, Greenville Water has continued to fulfill the mission set forth by the original leaders to provide quality for a sustainable future.
Thank you to everyone that has helped make it possible to reach this milestone for the 30-year anniversary. Without the hard work of our team members and effort to protect the watersheds through the conservation easement, Greenville would not have the quality water it has today.
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