A New Front in the Water Wars

By: Mike Vasilinda
By: Mike Vasilinda

Freshwater flow into Apalachicola Bay is crucial for oyster, shrimp, and
fish production. The bay produces 10 percent of the nation’s oysters.
Estuaries hatch many of the fish found in the Gulf.

But as Atlanta faced drought conditions, the water flow in the river has
been cut. It’s a battle environmentalists have been fighting for decades.

“A drought is a natural, recurring event in nature,” David McLain, founder of Apalachicola Riverkeepers said. “If you have a recurring event in nature, you can plan for it. And it hasn’t been planned for by the people who are the water users upstream. Their only plan is to take more cheap water out of the Chattahoochee, and that water then doesn’t come down here to us.”

Last summer’s water reduction was felt almost immediately.

“You’ve got to have the perfect conditions,” oyster processor Darren Guillotte said. “Perfect water, perfect environment for the oysters to grow.”

A senior federal judge in Jacksonville is now considering whether the Army Corps of engineers exceeded its authority when it water to Atlanta without congressional approval.

The judge’s decision could be devastating for a way of life and an
ecosystem dependent on a delicate balance of fresh and saltwater.

“There ought to be some way, based on science, to adjudicate competing demands,” McLain said.

While still facing drought conditions, Lake Lanier Outside Atlanta is rising, taking some of the pressure off water managers, but offering little in the way of a long term solution.

Recent Federal appeals court decisions, and a US Supreme Court decision support Florida and Alabama’s claim to a fair share of the water that has been diverted. From the bench last week, the Federal judge said the decision would result in some “happy” and some “sad” people.

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