On August 12th the U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker has declared a “fishery disaster” in the Apalachicola Bay located in Northeast Florida panhandle. The 2012 drought and overuse of water in the Chattahoochee, Flint, Apalachicola River basin that feeds the Apalachicola Bay has caused a 60% decline in the oyster harvest. The bay provides Florida with about 90% of its oysters and 10% of the nation’s oysters. The increase of salinity in the bay has lead to an intrusion of predators into the bay’s oysters such as boring clams, sponges and worms.
For over 25 years Georgia, Alabama and Florida have been at odds over the water use from the Chattahoochee, Flint, and Apalachicola river basin. The big white elephant in the room is the Metro Atlanta area, its dramatic growth of the last few decades and its huge demand for water. The Chattahoochee River along with its reservoir, Lake Lanier, located just north of the metro area, is the primary source of water for the Metro Atlanta area, which withdraws an estimated 360 million gallons per day. Georgia’s consumption is expected to nearly double to 705 million gallons per day by 2035.
This issue has gone to court in the past.
In 2009, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson ruled against Atlanta and signed an order that would have severely restricted the city’s withdrawals from the reservoir to levels last seen in the 1970s – when the city was a fraction of its current size – unless the political leaders of Alabama, Florida and Georgia struck a deal ending the impasse.
No deal has been struck.
But last year, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the looming water cutoff and found that Atlanta had a claim to water from the reservoir.
The court instructed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to determine how much water the city can use.
Determining the allowable water use for the Metro Atlanta may take the Corp of Engineers until 2015 to complete.
With the disaster of the drought from last year another court battle is in the wings. Florida Governor Rick Scott has decided to file suit against Georgia last week.
“”Because Georgia has not negotiated in good faith to fairly share the waters that flow between our two states, we are announcing today that Florida will bring suit in the U.S. Supreme Court next month to stop Georgia’s unchecked consumption of water that threatens the existence of Apalachicola fisheries and the future economic development of this region,” Scott said.
“Down the road it might help us out, but we need something short-term,” Shannon Hartsfield, an oysterman and president of the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association. “As soon as this rainy season and the little bit of water we’re getting from it, as soon as it’s over, we are out of luck. We can’t survive, and the oysters can’t survive”
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal considers the suit a “frivolous waste of time.”
Deal, who said he was blindsided by Scott’s statement, urged the states to resume talks but seemed resigned to the fact that Georgia will confront another taxing legal fight that could take years to resolve.
“We’re talking about water that falls on Georgia’s soil and flows through the state of Georgia. There’s a reason for us to be protective. We will not roll over. If Florida wants to fight, we’ll fight,” Deal told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday. “We think we have plenty of ammunition and that we have shown good faith on our side.”
It might be interesting to see how this will factor in the reelection campaigns of both Governors.
But, some real conservation measures have been needed for a while to resolve this water war. But, if history repeats itself, I am afraid any real plan will be kicked down the road.