July 22, 2008

Locals Attend Boyd’s Water Forum

By Deborah Buckhalter, Jackson County Floridan, Marianna, Fla.

Jul. 22--Three Jackson County Commissioners were among those who attended a forum on Monday in Chattahoochee to talk about water wars, water woes, and water studies that may need to be done on Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) river system.

Hosted by Congressman Allen Boyd, the meeting was held at the Corps of Engineers management office near Chattahoochee.

Jackson County Commissioners Jeremy Branch, Ed Crutchfield and Milton Pittman were in the standing-room-only crowd, and Branch spoke on behalf of an organization representing the six counties that border the Apalachicola River.

The meeting comes in the midst of a three-year drought and in the midst of a three-state struggle for a fair share of the water flowing through the ACF system.

Branch focused some of his comments on what he called "Atlanta's greed and gluttony" as it continues efforts to store more water in Lake Lanier in north Georgia, far upstream of the agriculture community in Jackson County.

Farmers here, he said, will be at risk if Atlanta is allowed unchecked reserves. Branch asserts that farmers' irrigation wells depend on artesian pressure to function property, and that pressure could be weakened by Atlanta's demands for more water. Farmers, he said, need assurance that they can continue to irrigate their crops properly in order to keep contributing to the country's food supply.

He also spoke of the power generating plant at Jim Woodruff Dam in Chattahoochee, saying it's operation could be compromised if metropolitan Atlanta is allowed to continue increasing storage of water upstream.

Branch also said further clarification is needed regarding state's rights and the Corp of Engineers' responsibility in the water wars.

Branch, like Boyd, wants an impartial water study done to explore all the possible negative impacts on downstream users caused by increasing draw-downs upstream and other practices.

Corps Brigadier General Joseph Schroedel agrees with Branch and Boyd on that point, and said such a study could be arranged, provided Congress creates funding for it.

Schroedel, one of the speakers, used some of his time trying to clear up some misconceptions surrounding the role of the Corps in the water wars.

The Corps does not, as some believe, have control over the amount of water a given state can draw down. Rather, that agency controls the amount of storage space allowed in the various reservoirs like Lake Lanier and Lake Seminole along the ACF system.

One misunderstanding, he said, is that the Corps has approved additional water allocations for Atlanta.

Schroedel, like several other speakers Monday, said its time for Georgia, Florida and Alabama to become partners rather than enemies in managing the water resource, and that in fact the 16 southernmost states in the U.S. might need to collaborate on a solution to what looks to be an ongoing water crisis.

It proved to be an emotional session for Franklin County Commissioner Joseph "Smokey" Parrish, who stopped to compose himself as he spoke of his history as a water-man in his county's world-renown oyster industry in the Apalachicola Bay.

Parrish, like many others at the meeting, was concerned about how the drought and Atlanta's demand for fresh water upstream could damage the oyster business and, therefore, the culture and economy of a county that depends so heavily on the industry for its livelihood.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole spoke at the meeting, going on record for the state in calling for a whole-system approach to the water crisis. He criticized recent allocation decisions, and the lack of water conservation and management policy in Atlanta.

Chad Taylor, a Jackson County member of the Apalachicola Riverkeeper advocacy organization, said he was heartened by Sole's presentation, saying that's the strongest message he's heard from the state on the issue.

Gov. Charlie Crist and state agencies have been criticized by some in the past for not taking a more aggressive role in the water wars on Florida's behalf.

Schroedel said he wants the dialogue to continue long past Monday's meeting, and said he would be setting up a standing conference call with selected stakeholders who will then be asked to share information from those sessions with others. Branch, for one, agreed to serve in that capacity when asked by Schroedel in casual conversation after the meeting.


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Copyright (c) 2008, Jackson County Floridan, Marianna, Fla.

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