Georgia Wins Water Battle as Environmentalists Allege Ecosystem Threats

Image: Thomson200 via Wikimedia Commons

By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

 

A judge has ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers does not have to revise plans for dam operations along the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers, a contentious win for Georgia in a series of ongoing battles over water between it and neighboring states. The decision comes after environmental groups, and the state of Alabama sued the Corps, claiming that the agency’s plan reserved too much water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin, potentially harming the health of wildlife and hydropower production along the rivers.

Why This Matters: As drought becomes a permanent fixture across the nation, environmental advocates are fighting to preserve the health of freshwater systems. Dams, outdated infrastructure, and manufactured reservoirs have often stood in the way of free-flowing rivers, bringing many ecosystems to the brink of collapse. 

  • Several dams on the California-Oregon border are slated for demolition after the lack of free-flowing water, and shallow conditions led to a parasite pandemic among native salmon populations.

Still, many states, like Georgia, rely on dams and reservoirs to provide drinking water to residents, which is becoming more difficult as drought sets in and demand rises. Water battles between states will become more common as global temperatures continue to increase. Finding a balance between providing water to the people and protecting freshwater ecosystems must be a vital component of climate adaptation.

 

Two Sides of the Same Coin

Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee river supply drinking water to much of metro Atlanta, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says that its plan will provide metro Atlanta with sufficient drinking water for the next 30 years, a result that Georgia officials are celebrating. “We will continue to be good stewards of our water resources, and we are proud to have obtained a positive resolution on behalf of all Georgians,” said Governor Brian Kemp and Attorney General Chris Carr.

But Georgia Ackerman, the executive director of Apalachicola Riverkeeper, says that the current plan to secure that drinking water will “starve the Apalachicola ecosystem of vital freshwater flows, especially during the critical breeding, spawning and flowering seasons for many species.” Ecosystems in Apalachicola Bay have already faced destruction due to the lack of free-flowing water, especially during times of drought, including the complete collapse of once-thriving oyster fisheries. 

Despite the win for Georgia, there is no end to the 30-year battle in sight. Alabama has also sued the Corps for how it divided the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa river basin, whose headwaters begin in Georgia.

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