Atlanta and downstream friends
(Dan here…another of David Zetland’s students Johanna writes on groundwater…a reminder of what also matters during this heated political climate, and from a younger generation. The first mention of water wars at AB was 2007 I believe.)
Atlanta and downstream friends
This post offers some insight into the problems of water management in Atlanta (the capital of Georgia) and the effects of those problems on its downstream neighbors Florida and Alabama. These problems are part of a 30-year water allocation drama in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (AFC) basin.
In Atlanta, population growth, legal disputes, and droughts result in water scarcity. Atlanta is one of the fastest-growing urban cities in the US, relying only on surface water supplies drawn from the Chattahoochee River, the source of the Tri-state water dispute with Alabama and Florida. The litigation began in 1990 when Alabama sued the Corps to stop allocating water to Atlanta. In 2014 Florida filed a complaint in the Supreme Court stating that Georgia has harmed the environment downstream and a bid for equitable apportionment (background on the litigation).
All three states have different concerns about water allocation. Atlanta is located in a water-scarce area and relies on the Chattahoochee River for 70% of its water. Georgia wants drinking water to help booming Atlanta grow but also to help farmers in the southwest of the state. Florida needs freshwater in the Apalachicola bay to sustain its multi-million-dollar oyster and shrimp industry. Alabama is concerned about water supply for power generators, municipality supply, and other needs.
Atlanta’s excessive water withdrawal and management issues affect downstream neighbors. When Atlanta experiences drought, then it uses more Chattahoochee water, which reduces flows to the Apalachicola bay, which kills shrimp and oysters. With less water to dilute Atlanta’s sewage and stormwater discharges, water quality falls, and salinity levels rise. Atlanta does not have the money to fix problems, so river-water quality is deteriorating. These issues make things more difficult for downstream industrial water users, and the region is struggling to attract new businesses. (You can read more about the history of the Tri-state dispute and Atlanta’s water crisis in this book.)
How do we manage the water of the AFC basin equitably and sustainably for all three member states?
Bottom Line: Unreliable and degrading water supplies are harming downstream users. Atlanta must improve its water infrastructure and management for the sake of its water supply and the future of all three states.
* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice
I lived for many years in Tallahassee, Fl, close to Apalachicola, which for a long time depended on oyster fishing in Apalachicola Bay. (recently, second home and northern migration may also be driving the economy)The bay depends on a delicate balance between salt water from the Gulf of Mexico, and freshwater from the Apalachicola River, which in turn is dependent of the water of the Chattahoochee. If or when the oysters disappear, the way of living for many families in Apalachicola will disappear as well. It is unfortunate, but not different than what happened to the fisheries in Chesapeake Bay.
About ten years ago I came across a report on Water Risk in the Municipal Bond Market. Atlanta bonds were among those mentioned as being at risk. Every growing city goes through this. The population crunch is rarely about land. It’s usually about water. The Los Angeles water wars of the early 20th century were infamous. Water was the fighting point in maybe 20% of all Westerns. Denver had a water crisis in the 1960s. Internationally, we’re seeing conflicts with China and its downstream neighbors over the Mekong. Look at Ethiopia and GERD damming the upper Nile. New York City had its share of conflicts in the 19h century, fighting over access to water in the Catskills and the Delaware River.
I’m really glad to see that this kind of thing is still being taught. I grew up learning about the NYC water supply. The Atlanta case has the advantage of being current but the disadvantage that no one knows how it will work out. I hope your class will take a look at how these water wars can be resolved to get some insight into where the Atlanta conflict could go.
One would think by now, there would be a regional authority formed which would govern how the limited supply of water is used. The communities and the states should be working together to develop the area in such a manner as to protect its limited and most valuable resource. Once it is damaged, it will be years to return to a natural state. Atlanta, GA sounds like a Flint, Michigan just waiting its turn to happen. Flint Water Crisis: Everything You Need to Know PFAS in Michigan: What we know and what we need
If they can not get together and develop a Master Plan for development and the use of water, the federal courts will decide and some or all will be hurt in the process. Atlanta should limit its growth. Although with people replacement diminishing (2.0 / couple), the issue may decrease.
The book “The Big Thirst” covers this issue and more quite well. I highly recommend it for the section on Las Vegas alone. Another wonderful book about water politics is “The Dreamt Land”.
Good comment. Perhaps, you can give a bit more detail of your experiences or what you have perceived in your life time? Does any of what is written need to be more detailed to get a point across? A question, what is the difference between highly recommend and recommend? Are you standing up when you recommend on the former? 🙂
Run…both books are non-fiction accounts of water policy. The big thirst deals with global communities dealing with water shortages and what they did to avoid catastrophes. It covers Vegas, Atlanta and then jumps to Australia. The author makes some very interesting recommendations at the end. Water is a very interesting subject. All the water that ever was on earth is mostly still on earth. We just use it and then it goes back into the system. The second book is about the Central Valley of California. It goes back in time to the Gold Rush and deals with how water rights were created and who got what and when. Nunes is in it as are the Resnicks. Fascinating book about water, farming and money in California.
I believe my approach here is to detail an alternative to just taking a scarce resource. That is to establish a regional commission to study the issue and develop an to move forward. In the end, every one will have to participate.