The conservation group American Rivers has put the entire Apalachicola-Flint-Chattahoochee River basin on top of its list of Most Endangered Rivers for 2016.
They say overuse, an outdated management plan, and a decades-long conflict over the rivers could lead to lasting economic and environmental damage in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida.
Ben Emanuel, Associate Director of Clean Water Supply for American Rivers, said a lot of the responsibility for managing the water falls on Georgia.
“There are as you know quite a lot of people living in metro Atlanta, and we all need water from this basin,” he said.
“But we also need to manage water in this basin in balance, so that there’s enough for all the users in north Georgia, in south Georgia, and in our neighboring states, Florida and Alabama.”
Katherine Zitsch, Natural Resources Division Manager with the Atlanta Regional Commission, disagreed with the report’s take on Atlanta’s water use.
“The report ignores the dramatic progress made in the Atlanta region, where aggressive conservation measures have decreased total water consumption by 10 percent since 2000, despite a 20 percent increase in population,” Zitsch said in a statement, citing a 2011 report from the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District.
The Chattahoochee River starts in the Blue Ridge mountains of north Georgia, flows southwest through metro Atlanta, and eventually forms part of the state’s border with Alabama.
The Flint River starts as groundwater seepage near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and flows southwest until meeting with the Chattahoochee at Lake Seminole near the Florida border.
Florida is suing Georgia in the U.S. Supreme Court to restrict Georgia’s water use. Florida says it needs water to flow into Apalachicola Bay to sustain the large fishing industry there. A ruling in the case is pending.
In the meantime, American Rivers is calling for the three states to enter a water-sharing agreement that focuses on sustainable use of the rivers’ resources.