Drought deepens divide between states amid decades-long water war

Missing teen's body found in Chattahoochee River (Image 1)

The ongoing drought continues to spell problems for Georgia, Alabama and Florida when it comes to water usage. A judge is currently deciding how much water from the ACF region belongs to the states. The ACF represents the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint River Basins. News 3 recently spoke with Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson (R) about how he plans to tackle the water wars once Congress resumes next session.

“We’ve got a severe drought all over the state as you know,” Sen. Isakson said. “We need to conserve the water that we have a conservation plan in place. We’re cautiously optimistic the Judge in the water wars case will rule favorably for Georgia. When that ruling comes out, we’ll know a lot about our future.”

The U.S. Supreme Court appointed a special judge from Maine to oversee the legal battle pitting Florida and Alabama vs. Georgia over water use. Meanwhile, businesses across all three states are feeling the pinch because of the lack of rain. Water falls at the center of economic development and environmental interests in the tri-state area. Dr. Fred Gordon labels water a “bridge of cooperation.” He says the renewable but finite resource gets complicated when it comes to how much each state gets.

“There’s so many times people are politically entrenched because there are such differences, but water has similarities,” Dr. Gordon said. “Everybody needs it.”

That aforementioned “bridge” is quickly burning as the relationships between Georgia, Alabama and Florida sour over water access.

“Water issues continue to be important,” Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) said. “Here on the banks of the Chattahoochee, it is our main water source in the state of Georgia: the Chatthoochee River and the basin that drains into it.”

Sen. Isakson mentions that he wants the judge’s ruling to be fair for everyone with stakes in the water wars. Alabama has nuclear power plants that need water to operate. Florida’s oyster industry banks on having adequate water. Atlanta’s rapid economic development depends on the fluid resource, and water represents the life source for South Georgia farms.

“We want to make sure we treat everybody fair and not punish anyone unduly,” Sen. Isakson said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulates how much flow the river basins churn out. There’s an issue between lawmakers though when it comes to how much flow reaches their states. Rep. Mike Rogers (R, Alabama) says he’s seen the effects of what he believes to be Georgia’s over consumption of water on Alabama waterways. A severe drought, which is responsible for widespread wildfires in the Southeast, is making matters more difficult for water-based businesses that depend on water. Whitewater Express President Dan Gilbert says he’s experienced a slight dip in business since the drought.

“When you’re outdoors, you contend with what goes on around you,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert says business still picked up better than ever in 2016, but he could not offer certain courses that required high river flow. Gilbert also serves on the ACF board. However, Dr. Gordon believes it’s unlikely that the board of the courts can rebuild the bridges and compromise.

“You would hope legislators would actually be the ones to be able to figure things out,” Dr. Gordon said. “After all, that’s what they’re there for: to solve problems.”

Dr. Gordon has published several articles on the water wars. To learn more about his proposed plan to address the tri-state water wars, click the link below: Dr. Gordon’s ACF plan

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