Resolving water war up to us

Published 8:03 pm Friday, June 4, 2010

Resolving the 20-year battle over the waters of the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint rivers among the states of Georgia, Florida and Alabama may come down to its citizens.

At the conclusion of the ACF Water Conference and Summit held at the Kirbo Center, a panel discussion by the stakeholders of the river basin said those residents along its basin and those citizens most concerned about the sustainability of it could resolve this “Water War.”

“We are all about what’s best for the ACF basin,” said Vince Falcione, a member of the governing board of the ACF Stakeholders organization. “We want to make sure that the basin is around for a long time.”

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The Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) Stakeholders began with a meeting in August 2008 where a small group of people who live, work and utilize the water resources met to explore the question: “Can the diverse users of the ACF Basin act cooperatively with the goal of resolving the water resources issues that have been left unsettled in the political and legal system for the past 20 years?”

The answer was yes.

In fact, they say the biggest surprise when the fractionized groups first met was that after years of each other being villianized, that in fact there were common interests in protecting and preserving the basin.

“It’s one of our best opportunities in resolving this situation,” said Dan Tonsmeire of the Apalachicola Riverkeepers.

Tonsmeire, saying Florida’s Apalachicola Bay is a national treasure that produces 10 percent of the nation’s oysters and is an important estuary for other species, made the analogy of what the 2008 drought did to the bay’s production and what the BP oil spill may do if and when it reaches the bay.

During that drought, water flows dropped dramatically throughout the basin and the Apalachicola River had 30 percent to 37 percent less water flow during those summer months than average. Tonsmeire said there was 100 percent reduction in shrimp harvesting and 80 percent of the oyster bars were decimated. Approximately 4 million floodplain trees were also lost. Tonsmeire said the impact of the drought was caused in part because politicians and others in control either ignored or failed to act to minimize the consequences. He said the oil spill in the Gulf will devastate it also because of ignorance and inaction by those individuals in control of the situation.

“Those folks are like its BP executives who ignored the warning signs,” Tonsmeire said.

Flint’s flow declining

Steve Golladay with the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center said research has shown that they are seeing a decline in water flow along the Flint River.

“Our research suggests that we need to be prepared in water scarcity,” Golladay said, adding that water scarcity is the primary issue the states are dealing with.

The Flint River is an unregulated river, meaning that there are only run-of-the-river dams on it. Despite record rains, including those in the 1990s that produced the Floods of 1994 and 1998, the water flows within the Flint River have not increased in response.

During the most recent periods, minimum flows are starting to decline.

There are 570,000 acres of irrigated crops in the lower Flint River, and Golladay said there is a correlation with water use and effective crop management. He commended farmers who are using the latest technology in water conservation and using crop management to manage water use.

No new dams

There has been some discussion in Atlanta about building more reservoirs in order to accommodate the metropolitan area’s growth; however, the position of some of the conference’s speakers were that a dam built for water impoundment on the Flint River would destroy it.

The Flint is one of the longest unimpeded rivers left in the country, stretching more than 200 miles without a dam on it.

“We have just about exhausted efforts for large lakes, except the Flint,” said Dan MacIntrye, who is an attorney but spoke on behalf of the Georgia Canoeing Association. He said the ACF system has two of the best white-water rafting rivers in the country—the upper Chattahoochee and the upper and middle Flint.

Best fishing in Georgia

On Tuesday, two Georgia Department of Natural Resource fisheries biologists said Lake Seminole is the top largemouth bass fishing lake in the state. They added that an experiment in getting Alabama shad to travel into the Jim Woodruff lock and travel farther upstream to spawn was successful.

John Kilpatrick said the number of bass fishermen weighing in zero limit catches while fishing Lake Seminole is declining and the number of fishermen weighing in the limit catch is increasing. Also, he said the time to catch a five-pound bass in Lake Seminole is half the time of other lakes in Georgia.

However, Kilpatrick said the striped bass population may be vulnerable, noting they are seeing fewer stripers in the 10-pound range.

Travis Ingram, also with DNR, said Alabama shad could not travel upstream to spawn because of the Woodruff Dam. But the DNR kept the dam’s lock open on the downstream side during certain windows during spawning season and attracted the shad to go into the lock with the sound of splashing.

With these tagged fish, Ingram said they determined that fish would enter the lock while hearing water splashing over the walls of the lock, and then exit into Lake Seminole when that lock opened on the lake’s side.

Ingram said they would like to perform similar experiments with Gulf striped bass and Gulf sturgeon.