Moderated by Tom Sabulis
Florida Gov. Rick Scott says he’s taking Georgia to the Supreme Court over the contentious dispute involving water released from Lake Lanier. Today, a Florida water official writes that Georgia is monopolizing this precious resource and contributing to the decline of Apalachicola Bay. A Georgia water official writes that our region is not to blame, and we’re actively conserving more water.
Commenting is open.
By Jon Steverson
I was proud to be standing with Gov. Rick Scott when he recently announced that Florida would take historic legal action to protect the environment, economy and people of Apalachicola Bay and Northwest Florida.
This effort, to ensure that Florida is treated fairly as water demands continue to increase upstream, is not the slightest bit “frivolous.” It exemplifies Gov. Scott’s commitment to fighting for the future of Florida families that depend on freshwater from the Apalachicola River not only to put food on their tables, but on the tables of people around the country.
For 20 years, Florida has attempted to relieve the economic and environmental harm caused by reduced water flows and increased consumption by Georgia in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basins, both through legal challenges to the Army Corps of Engineers’ water management practices and negotiations with Georgia and Alabama.
In that time, Georgia’s demands on the ACF system continued to grow. Georgia now uses more than 90 percent of the water withdrawn from the system. Florida uses a mere 2.5 percent. Metro Atlanta alone withdraws 360 million gallons per day from the Chattahoochee River — three times greater, for the amount of water for public supply, than all 16 counties and municipalities of the Florida Panhandle combined. This use is expected to nearly double to 705 million gallons per day by 2035 if it continues to grow unchecked.
However, it’s not just Atlanta. We see this dominating use even when comparing agricultural withdrawals among the states. In 2005, Georgia had nearly 7,200 center-pivot irrigation systems in the ACF basin, pumping hundreds of million of gallons per day. The number of center pivots in southwest Georgia has increased dramatically, to an estimated 9,200 today — 38 times the number of such systems in the Florida portion of the basin.
We can talk about conservation, but you can’t ignore sheer massive consumption.
Apalachicola River flows have been lower, and low flows have occurred more frequently and for longer durations, than at any other time in recorded history.
Some people like to point at drought; 2012 set a record for the least amount of water delivered to Apalachicola Bay since record-keeping began in 1923. But it wasn’t the year with the least rainfall.
Georgia’s demands on the ACF system has placed in peril an extraordinarily productive estuarine system that has sustained oyster harvesting, shrimping, crabbing and fishing for generations.
One economy should not deprive another of the lifeblood needed for survival.
This historically vibrant and economically important ecosystem cannot be replaced. Negotiations have been unproductive. Customary litigation has been fruitless. Florida has no choice but to address the problem by filing an “original action” with the U.S. Supreme Court. This suit differs greatly from previous legal actions in that it is an equitable proceeding reserved for disputes between states and should supply us with an answer sooner rather than later.
Gov. Scott knows the Apalachicola Bay and its people can’t wait another 20 years.
Jon Steverson is executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District, which is responsible for managing water resources in the region that includes the Apalachicola River and Bay.
By Boyd Austin
For nearly 25 years, Florida and Alabama have sued over Georgia’s right to use the water that originates in our state. In 2011, a ruling by the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld metropolitan Atlanta’s right to use Lake Lanier for drinking water. Now, the latest chapter in this decades-old battle is unfolding, as Florida’s governor blames metro Atlanta for the plight of the oysters and oystermen in Apalachicola Bay.
While the decline of the oyster population is indeed tragic, the fault is not metro Atlanta’s. In recent years, the Southeast faced one of the worst droughts on record. Lack of freshwater supply affected users in all three states. Even in the driest of years, metro Atlanta’s water consumption only accounts for 2 to 3 percent of the flows in the entire Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint system.
In addition to drought, over-harvesting of oysters following the BP oil spill has led to the oysters’ decline. Furthermore, the oysters are impaired by Sikes Cut, a man-made passage constructed through St. Georges Island to facilitate quicker access for fishing boats to the open Gulf waters. This convenience comes at the cost of the oysters due to increased salinity in the bay.
Although metro Atlanta is not to blame for the woes of the oysters, we understand that we must be good stewards of the water resources that flow through our state. The Atlanta region, through the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District, has established one of the most aggressive water conservation programs in the country. The Metro Water District’s 15 counties, 92 municipalities and their respective water providers have implemented 19 water conservation measures, including tiered conservation pricing (the more water you use, the more you pay), toilet rebate programs and water system leak detection and repair.
This dedication to water conservation and wise stewardship of our water is paying off. Since 2000, metro Atlanta’s regional, per capita water use has dropped by more than 20 percent. Total water withdrawals have dropped by 10 percent, despite the fact that population increased by 20 percent to more than 5 million people. This improvement is a testament to the water efficiency, water conservation and water stewardship efforts put in place across the district.
Though the region’s record for wise water use is clear, metro Atlanta is not letting up. The water district just launched My Drop Counts (www.mydropcounts.org), a water conservation campaign aimed at raising awareness of how much water metro residents use and encouraging them to use less. Lake Lanier is currently full, but our message to residents is that water conservation is always important.
As Gov. Nathan Deal asserted last week, the best way to end this dispute is through negotiation, not litigation. We do not need to continue the water wars, but instead come together to collaborate on how to share our water resources. It’s way past the time for a lasting peace. But if Florida decides to stay the course and waste taxpayer dollars through litigation, we prevailed in the last lawsuit, and we are confident we will prevail again.
Boyd Austin is chairman of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District.