Atlanta vs. Apalachicola: southeastern water wars
For years, Florida, Georgia, and Alabama have been engaged in a political and legal battle over water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River watershed, which, like many western watersheds, includes a series of dams and water control structures to govern the timing and quantities of flows. See Army Corps of Engineers webpage.
Buford Dam photo from ngeorgia.com
In recent years, the Endangered Species Act has moved to the forefront in the dispute over how much water should flow, and when it should flow, from Georgia's Lake Lanier down to Florida's Apalachicola Bay. Lake Lanier, controlled in part by releases through the Buford Dam, is an important part of the water supply system for Atlanta, whereas Apalachicola Bay is essential to the Florida Panhandle's fishing and oyster economy. Along the way, populations of endangered mussels have complicated the U.S. Army Corps watershed management plans, and the mussels themselves have become a source of litigation. Notably, these freshwater mussels serve as critical indicators of ecosystem health. See, U.S. Geological Survey.
Photo of fat threeridge mussels from Discovery News (6/7/2006).
In 2006, Florida argued that the Corps retention of water in upstream reservoirs failed to satisfy the interim flow needs of the listed mussel species in the ACF during periods of low flow conditions. Florida's motion for a temporary restraining order was denied by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama because, at the time, the Court held that the evidence pointed to other causes for exposure of the mussels and harm to their habitat, such as severe drought. As the Court held, it could not "hold the Corps responsible for the absence of rain... Using the reserves now... means less water available in the future to combat the effects of this drought if it continues as anticipated." State of Alabama v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (N.D. Ala., July 25, 2006), Case No. CV-90-BE-01331-E. Earlier this year, in March 2007, the dispute was referred to the multi-district dispute resolution panel. See In Re: Tri-States Water Rights Litigation, Transfer Order (Mar. 20, 2007)
This October, however, with water supplies low in Georgia, the water wars became even more intense, and Georgia leaders called for a waiver of the Endangered Species Act, claiming that watershed management efforts were choosing mussels over people. Meanwhile, their counterpart Florida leaders rejected such claims, noting that the downstream needs of people in Apalachicola Bay are equally important, and arguing that Georgia's leaders are simply choosing Georgians over Floridians. Click here to see the letter from Florida's Governor Crist to President Bush. The dispute went to the White House Council on Environmental Quality, see Atlanta Journal Constitution Article (11/1/2007), and MSNBC article, but Florida's leaders remain unhappy with the temporary truce brokered by the White House. See article (11/10/2007) in The Ledger.
In a question and answer page dedicated to the subject, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service addressed many of the key aspects of this dispute. For a scholarly casestudy on the history of dispute resolution efforts in the basin, click here.