Three States, Two Basins, One Water War
While water has appeared to be an abundant resource in the Southeast, droughts in the 1980's and today bring water abundance to the forefront, exposing the looming problem of supplying all desired uses in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF)and Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoossa (ACT) River basins, particularly during low flow periods.
Water supply for municipal and industrial uses, hydropower, wildlife, recreation, irrigation, flood control and navigation all vie for this finite resource. Explosive growth in metro Atlanta near the upper portion of both basins has increased the population from one-half million people in 1950 to almost three million in 1990 and future growth projections predict that the trend will continue. Unfortunately, the limited water supply that these basins can provide has created a political firestorm for the three states that rely on them. Currently, Florida, Alabama and Georgia are locked in a courtroom controversy over the fair management of the waters that these states share. more…
Atlanta and Southeast
by Charles Seabrook
One state accuses the other of hoarding water. Another state charges that its upstream neighbour will suck rivers dry and leave no water for downstream use.
With its humid climate, lazy meandering rivers and vast stretches of alligator-inhabited swamps, the South has long been regarded as water rich. That concept has evaporated, however. Because of the South's phenomenal growth, water experts have come to a stark conclusion: No longer is there enough water to satisfy all of the competing demands for the precious and at the same time ensure an adequate supply for future development.
Fears of future water shortages have prompted Southern states to draw up battle lines. Virginia and Maryland are squabbling over the Potomac River, and North Carolina and Virginia have gone to court over the use of water from Lake Gaston along their border.
But nowhere is a struggle over water being played out more dramatically than the conflict pitting Georgia, Florida and Alabama against one another. The three states are waging one of the bitterest water wars the nation has seen in decades. They are flailing away at one another for a guaranteed share -- at least through the next 30 to 50 years -- of the rivers in two major basins flowing across their common borders. The squabble's outcome is crucial, because it could dictate the pace of future growth in the three states and be a preview for other water wars that surely will erupt in the South.
Georgia's demand is for enough water to fuel the mushrooming growth in metro Atlanta over the next 50 years. Alabama wants to be ensured of adequate water to support its own burgeoning growth. Florida wants enough water to protect its oyster industry and marine life on the Gulf Coast.
A favorable agreement in the water dispute is especially crucial for Georgia, where the two main river basins in the feud have their headwaters. In exchange for a guaranteed portion of the rivers' waters to sustain growth in Georgia (especially metro Atlanta) over the next half century, more than 3 million residents of metro Atlanta may face permanent restrictions on outdoor watering. Georgians in general may have to pay higher electricity bills as hydropower is curtailed, and farmers in the southwest portion of the state -- the state's most productive agricultural area -- may face strict limits on water for crop irrigation. In addition, commercial barge traffic at Georgia's inland ports at Bainbridge and Columbus may be curtailed. Industries -- and the people they serve -- may have to pay more to treat wastes discharged into rivers because of less water to dilute the effluent. Ultimately, developers may have to shut down plans for new subdivisions or roads or shopping malls if water supplies are not adequate.
Georgia officials warn that metro Atlanta probably will have to find sources of water other than the Chattahoochee, the moderately sized river that provides 70 percent of the metro area's drinking water and serves as a conduit for hauling away its wastes. Finding a new source, though, may be a major undertaking. The underlying rock structure of northern Georgia is not conducive to storing huge quantities of water in aquifers. Therefore, groundwater provides little hope of filling the need.
So, the only alternative is new sources of surface water. However, business leaders, environmental groups and residents in the Tennessee River basin and the Savannah River basin in South Carolina already have warned Georgia not to even think about tapping their water to quench metro Atlanta's thirst.
Negotiating Water Allocations Using
A Comprehensive Study Format
Jeffrey L. Jordan
The ACT and ACF basins both originate in north Georgia and have a common boundary of approximately 233 miles. Both basins have experienced extensive water resource development in the form of multiple purpose reservoirs by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and non-Federal interests. There are ten Corps operated reservoirs and 21 privately owned reservoirs in the two basins.
The water conflict in the southern United States began due in large measure to the growth and needs of the
Atlanta metro area. The rapid pace of population growth during the 1980s and into the 1990s, along with a series of droughts, created a demand on the water resources of the two basins. The issues involved are diverse and complex, involving both surface and ground water, as well as water quality, economic development issues, and the interbasin transfer of water.
The ACF river basin stretches over 385 miles from northeast Georgia to the Apalachicola Bay at the Gulf of Mexico in northwest Florida. Its drainage area covers 19,800 square miles and is situated in three
physiographic regions of the Appalachian Highlands, the Piedmont Plateau, and the Coastal Plain. Approximately three-quarters of the basin is located in Georgia and extends over 62 of its counties. The main rivers are the Chattahoochee and Flint, which combine to form the Apalachicola River after their confluence at Lake Seminole.
The population within the ACF is almost 2.7 million, 90 percent of which is located in Georgia’s portion of the basin. The southern and extreme northern parts of the basin are rural and predominately comprised of farmland, forest, and wetlands. Georgia accounts for 82 percent of the water withdrawals in the system. The basin has experienced extensive water resource development by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as non-federal interests, primarily on the Chattahoochee River in the form of multiple purpose reservoirs. Although there are five Corps reservoirs and nine non-federal reservoirs on the Flint River, there exists little storage capacity on the river. The ACF river system is used to supply water to municipalities and industries, for hydroelectric and thermoelectric power generation, for navigation, for aquatic habitat,
and for a variety of lake and river recreation activities.
Located in the northern half of Georgia known as the Piedmont, Atlanta's landscape is one of undulating hills wedged between rugged mountains and a flat coastal plain. Its unique geographical position has made it the transportation hub of the South since the 19th century. Railroads, highways and its airport (the world's busiest in 2004) have made it accessible to the rest of the country and attractive to the convention trade. Atlanta was and is a crossroads town.
By the time the Civil War began in 1861, Atlanta was a major railroad hub, manufacturing center and supply depot. General William Sherman, during his infamous 'March to the Sea' in 1864, burned all of the railroad facilities, most businesses and more than two thirds of the residences in an attempt to cripple supply lines.
Atlanta did not lie in ruins for long. Within four years of Sherman's attack, the Georgia capital was moved from nearby Milledgeville to Atlanta, and the city launched its first campaign to attract new business.
Several international businesses have their headquarters in Atlanta, including CNN, UPS and Coca-Cola. The city is also home to the Center for Disease Control. A number of famous Americans are also Atlanta natives, most notable among them would be Martin Luther King, Jr. and Margaret Mitchell, author of "Gone with the Wind".
The Atlanta metropolitan area has been widely called the "poster child" for urban sprawl. In 1970 the Atlanta metropolitan region had 1.9 million residents living on 1,730 square miles of land, and a half million lived in the central city. Now the Atlanta metropolitan region has just over 5 million residents living on 8,376 square miles, while its central city population has fallen to 486,411.
The environmental impacts of urban sprawl in Georgia are among the most significant and widespread in the nation. The 2000 census report ranked Georgia as the country's sixth fastest-growing state in the 1990s; its population increased more than 26.4 percent during this period. The Atlanta region alone is home to four of the ten fastest-growing counties in the nation. While growth and development have both diversified and strengthened Georgia's economy, rapid and seemingly unchecked growth is responsible for major environmental impacts that will have to be addressed in order to preserve the quality of life for Georgia citizens.