Competing Demands Among Water Uses in the Apalachicola- Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin
|Geolocation:||33° 40' 7", -84° 26' 22.9999"|
|Total Population||6.7 million|
|Total Area|| 21,90021,900 km² |
8,455.59 mi² km2
|Climate Descriptors||Dry-summer, temperate|
|Predominent Land Use Descriptors||agricultural- cropland and pasture, agricultural- confined livestock operations|
|Important Uses of Water||Agriculture or Irrigation, Domestic/Urban Supply, Fisheries - wild|
|Water Features:||Apalachicola- Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin|
|Riparians:||United States of America, Georgia (U.S.), Alabama, Florida|
|Water Projects:||Flint River Watershed Coalition|
|Agreements:||Flint River Basin Plan, Georgia Water Stewardship Act|
- 1 Summary
- 2 Natural, Historic, Economic, Regional, and Political Framework
- 3 Analysis, Synthesis, and Insight
- 4 Key Questions
Water management in the ACF has long been a highly contentious issue. Conflict over water in the ACF is largely driven by three competing demands: water for urban and industrial uses (water quantity, assets, and governance) in upstream Atlanta, agricultural water needs (water quantity and assets) in southern Georgia, and water for ecological and fisheries needs (ecosystems, water quantity, water quality) in Florida’s Apalachicola Bay. While conflict in the ACF has received significant attention, the potential of improved agricultural policy and management to create water savings in the Basin has received surprisingly little attention. This analysis addresses the following questions: 1) Do agricultural subsidies influence water use in the Flint River Basin and can direct subsidies be used to potentially reduce conflict over water in the ACF Basin? 2) Can agricultural policy and management promote more sustainable water use in water-stressed basins? The case finds that agricultural subsidies play an important role in farmer choice about which crops to grow, thereby indirectly influencing water use. For this reason, altering agricultural subsidies and encouraging farmers to grow more water efficient crops can greatly improve water use in the ACF and other water-stressed basins. In water-stressed basins with significant agricultural activity, attention should be paid to the role of local and national agricultural policies—including crop subsidies—in driving water use. Particularly as climate change exacerbates water tensions, opportunities to increase the efficiency of water use needs to be seriously considered.
Natural, Historic, Economic, Regional, and Political Framework
The ACF (Apalachicola/Chattahoochee/Flint River) Basin is one of the most contentious watersheds in the world. The basin’s waters originate in northern Georgia, travel through eastern Alabama and flow out through the Florida panhandle into the Apalachicola Bay. Atlanta, the region’s economic hub, is located upstream and is one of the basin’s predominantusers of water. Southern Georgia and Alabama are heavily agricultural, and demand significant amounts of water for irrigation. Downstream, the basin’s waters play a key role in Florida’s fisheries and the ecological health of the Apalachicola Bay. The failure to reconcile these competing interests and uses for water has made water management in the basin highly contentious, a problem that is further complicated by water quality issues associated with insufficient wastewater treatment and agricultural runoff throughout the basin.
Conflict over water in the ACF has been studied extensively by academics and practitioners, and numerous proposals for how to improve management of the basin and reduce conflict have been made. Proposed approaches for addressing the basin’s conflict can be summarized as focusing on: 1) institutional arrangements between states, 2) dam operating policies, and 3) water consumption in Atlanta. Institutional arrangements have attempted to develop cooperative management committees in the hope that, through negotiation, the parties involved in the conflict could come to agreement. These arrangements have taken various forms, including at Tri-State Compact, which was—as mandated by the Supreme Court in 1997—supported by a mediation process. A joint-fact finding process has also been undertaken. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has attempted to meet competing water uses through the dam operating policies. The Chattahoochee River has 13 dams, and the timing of the releases from these dams influence the available water throughout the basin. The third major approach has been to target water consumption in Atlanta. As a rapidly developing industrial center, Atlanta’s water consumption has risen significantly over the past several decades, causing concern among other stakeholders. Because Atlanta is located in the upper portion of the watershed, the logic is that if Atlanta reduces its consumption, more water will be available for downstream uses. Unfortunately, to date, none of these approaches have successfully resolved the conflict.
In 1990 Alabama sued the Army Corps of Engineers for management of Lake Lanier, and the case has been a source of ongoing litigation ever since. Given that the case has been involved in litigation for over 20 years and repeated attempts to resolve the conflict have failed, it appears that new approaches for resolving this conflict are needed. This need is intensified by the fact that climate change may lead to more frequent and more severe droughts and water shortages in the basin, which is likely to further exacerbate conflict if tense relations in the ACF aren’t addressed.
The Role of the USACE
The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) operates 5 multi-purpose reservoir projects in the ACF. These are congressionally authorized projects, and a major purpose of the USACE’s management of these reservoirs is to balance the lake levels within the system as to ensure water for hydropower operations and navigation purposes. The original Master Water Control Manual (WCM) for USACE’s reservoir operations in the ACF was published in 1958. Water Control Operations Manuals for each reservoir have received updates since then. However, a 1989 draft update to the WCM which included releases for addressing Georgia’s water supply request for Metro Atlanta was the initial spark leading to a decade of contentious litigation involving the three states and USACE.
A major question in the litigation for the ACF basin was does the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have the authority to operate the Lake Lanier/Buford Dam to accommodate metro-Atlanta’s water supply requests? A 2009 court decision expressed that water supply is not a purpose of USACE’s reservoir management, however this was overturned in 2011.
As part of the ongoing effort to develop a new Master Water Control Manual, the USACE has been preparing updated documents to inform reservoir operations in the basins. This includes studies such as a technical assessment for system modelling, a hydropower operations study, and a basin-wide environmental impact statement (forthcoming). An updated Master Water Control Manual is expected within a few years. 
The USACE’s role is limited by the scope of their operations. They can effectively control flows (water quantity) downstream of storage projects (Lake Lanier/Buford, Water F. George, West Point) and manage the lakes to maintain and certain range of water levels. While this controls how water moves within the river system, it doesn’t address the quantity or quality of return flows from non-consumptive uses or other withdrawals outside of their authority.
Water for Energy Production
Thermoelectric power generation is the largest water source for water withdrawal in the basin; however most of this water is returned to the source. Over 88% of water withdrawals for power generation are used for once-through cooling. .
Public Water Supply
Public supply accounts for 30% of total water withdrawals in the basin (609 Mgal/d for ground and surface sources). Of the 545 Mgal/d surface water withdrawals for public supply in 2005, approximately 68% of withdrawals served Metro Atlanta counties, with almost 60% of withdrawals attributed to three counties (Fulton, Gwinnett, DeKalb). Complicating matters, of the 4.317 million Metro Atlanta residents served by public water supply withdrawals from the ACF , about one-fourth lived outside of the basin. In 2005, municipal wastewater returns totaled 413 Mgal/d, suggesting that a significant portion of basin withdrawals eventually returned to the basin. 
Basin wide, 18% of water withdrawals in 2005 were for agricultural irrigation. Between 1970 and 2005, the acreage of irrigated crops increased significantly. The majority of water withdrawals for agriculture are from groundwater sources. Good quantitative of how ground and surface water sources interact within the basin is currently being produced as part the United States Geological Survey SGS Water Census and WaterSMART program.
Along the Flint River in Georgia, agriculture is an economic driver and agriculture is responsible for the majority of the basin's water use. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources acknowledges that agriculture "is the economic engine of southwest Georgia, and water is the basis of successful agriculture." It is the most heavily irrigated area in the basin: in the lower Flint over 90% of the water used is for agriculture. Flint River Basin water management is largely centered on providing sufficient and consistent flows for agricultural uses, with less attention to water conservation, efficiency measures, or concern for other water uses throughout the larger ACF Basin.
The Flint River is one of Georgia’s largest agricultural production areas, with revenue contributions estimated at $5.8 billion in 2006, 34% of the regional economy. Cotton is the major commodity produced. Pecans require water throughout most the year, and vegetables and corn have seasonal spikes in the spring. Cotton and peanuts have peak water rdemand in the summer months, which places them in direct competition with other basin demands that also peak during this time (fisheries and recreational uses).
Reservoir Operations Impacting Recreation and Property Owners
Waterfront property owners and businesses that rely on lake recreation activities are concerned with water levels not only to maintain levels that are conducive to recreation activities and maintain the aesthetic qualities of reservoirs but also because low or inconsistent lake levels can impact shoreline erosion and the impact longevity of built structures (such as docks).
While minimum flows to sustain the Apalachicola Bay oyster fishery have received significant media attention, there are other species in the basin that have specific water quality and quanity requirements.
Timeline of Water Conflict in the ACF Basin
|Start||Event Description||End (if Applicable)|
|1952||The opening of Lake Seminole and Jim Woodruff Dam on the Apalachicola River, 107 miles north of the mouth of the bay. The stated purposes for this dam/reservoir included hydroelectric power generation, navigation, recreation, water quality, and fish and wildlife conservation Dates indicate construction + opening.||1957|
|1956||USACE completes Buford Dam on the Chattahoochee River, creating Lake Lanier. Originally developed for flood management, hydropower, and navigation, the purpose of the lake was modified through P.L. No. 84-841 (70 Stat. 725) in 1956 authorizing storage for Gwinnett County's water supply ||1957|
|1962||West Point Lake and Dam (USACE managed) are authorized (Chatahoochee River, along AL-GA border) for "flood risk management, hydroelectric power generation, navigation, recreation, water quality, and fish and wildlife conservation" on the Chattahoochee river, along the AL-GA Border||1975|
|1963||George W. Andrews Lock and Dam are created as a navigation project, 154 miles north of Appalachicola bay||1963|
|1963||Walter F. George Lake, also known as Lake Eufaula, is authorized the on Chattahoochee, 183 miles north of Apalachicola Bay. It's stated purposes included hydroelectric power generation, navigation, recreation, water quality and fish and wildlife conservation.||1963|
|1970||Rapid population growth in Atlanta’s metropolitan area caused increasing water demand (region’s water withdrawal grew from 289 mgd in 1980 to 606 mgd in 2000)||ongoing|
|1989||USACE issue a draft report recommending reallocation of 529 mgd of water from Lake Lanier to meet Atlanta’s water need through 2010|
|1990||Alabama and Florida file suit to stop USACE from reallocating water on the basis that the diversions failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. Later, Georgia joined the lawsuit as a fourth party to assert its sovereign right to control its water resources.|
|1990 (September)||Three states and the Corps agreed to pursue a negotiated solution, and the Alabama case was stayed.||1957|
|1991||Three states signed an agreement to undertake information-gathering in advance of negotiations and later joined as equal partners in the negotiations. Technical consultants and advisors were agreed upon, a financial pool was created, and officials from all four parties administered these funds.||1992|
|1993 (March)||The three states sign an agreement to undertake information-gathering in advance of negotiations and later joined as equal partners in the negotiations. Technical consultants and advisors were agreed upon, a financial pool was created, and officials from all four parties administered these funds.|
|1997 (November 20)||ACF River Basin Compact is formalized. The comission consisted of a member representing each state (appointed by the governor) and a non-voting federalrepresentative, appointed by the President||1957|
|1998||Distrust amongst the parties slowed initial progress. 1998 gubernatorial elections caused additional slow down as new administrations set priorities. Deadline for the negotiations were extended multiple times. Georgia was the holdout as they would not agree to an specific minimum flow conditions. The federal representative recommended they find a mediator.||2000 (August)|
|2000 (November)||Compact Negotiations continue, and deadlines are extended, but no decision is reached.||2003 (August)|
|2000 (December)||Southeastern Federal Power Customers (SeFPC), a group of power distributors in metropolitan Atlanta, filed suit against the Corps for allocating more water to Atlanta than was authorized under the Water Supply Act. Under the settlement agreement, the Corps promised to provide metropolitan Atlanta with at least twenty years of interim water supply storage. Atlanta agreed to compensate SeFPC for these allocations. A Settlement was reached in January 2003, and approved by D.C. Federal Court in February 2004. The Settlement Agreement included a proposal for the USACE to enter into interim water storage contracts at Lake Lanier for several municipalities and local governments, with the potential for the interim water storage contracts to roll over to permanent reallocation storage contracts in the future.||2003-2004|
|2003||Alabama and Florida reactivate previous litigation and file new litigation to prevent USACE from implementing any changes in reservoir operations||2005|
|2003||Alabama and Florida, unaware of the deal with SeFPC, expressed outrage over the “secret settlement” and filed to have the settlement agreement overturned. They threatened to pull out of negotiations. Injunction granted and then lifted in 2005||2005|
|2006 (March)||Court-ordered mediation between parties is initiated||2007 (March)|
|2007 (November)||The "governors of Alabama, Florida, and Georgia met with executive branch leaders (Secretary of the Department of the Interior, Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality [CEQ], Chief of Engineers) to discuss strategies for developing solutions to the decades-long water wars among the three states. The resulting discussions focused primarily on the ACF system and the need for the states to agree on a drought water-management plan. The mutually agreed-upon deadline was March 1, 2008. The parties did not reach an agreement, and negotiations ended on the agreed deadline."||2007 (March)|
|2009||Federal Judge Paul Magnuson rules that water supply was never an official purpose of Lake Lanier and metro-Atlanta cannot access additional water withdrawals. Sets summer 2012 deadline for the states to come to agreement on water use.|
|2009||ACF Stakeholders incorporated to "seek sustainable water management solution"|
|2011 (June)||2009 Court decision is overturned by 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, granting USACE the authority to grant Georgia's request for increased withdrawals from Lake Lanier. U.S. Court of Appeals reverses MDL District Court Order|
|2012||Oyster Fishery Collapse in Apalachicola Bay. Researchers have linked this to diminished freshwater flow into the bay. Some portion of diminished flow was due to drought in the basin.||2013|
|2012 (October)||USACE published intent to revise EIS scope to "consider a broader range of water supply alternatives, include both current levels of water supply withdrawals and increased withdrawals from Lae Lanier and Downstream at Atlanta."|
|2013 (October 1)||Florida files a lawsuit against Georgia, seeking ensured steady water supply to support the environmental flows required to support bay ecosystems|
|2013 (October 7)||ACF Stakeholders press release calls on Florida Governor to "delay any further legal action or pursuit of current lawsuit" and announces that they will be releasing the results of a sustainable water plan that has been in development since 2010.|
|2014||USACE expects to publish the Final EIS and Record of Decision in late 2014|
Issues and Stakeholders
Maintaining water supply for agriculture and irrigation
NSPD: Water Quantity, Governance, Assets
Stakeholder Types: Federated state/territorial/provincial government, Industry/Corporate Interest
Variables: 1. Water quantity (water supply) 2. Assets (agricultural industry, regional economy) 3. Governance (agricultural policies and permitting systems)
Stakeholders: 1. Farmers and livestock operators (industry)2. State of Georgia (territorial government)
Ensuring sufficient water for upstream municipal and industrial uses
NSPD: Water Quantity, Governance, Assets
Stakeholder Types: Federated state/territorial/provincial government, Sovereign state/national/federal government, Local Government, Industry/Corporate Interest, Community or organized citizens
Variables: 1. Water quantity (water supply) 2. Assets (agricultural industry, regional economy) 3. Governance (agricultural policies and permitting systems)
Stakeholders: 1. City of Atlanta (local government) 2. Atlanta Regional Council (intergovernmental coordination agency) 3. State of Georgia (territorial government) 4. US Army Corp of Engineers (national government)5. residents of Atlanta (community)
Maintaining ecological health and sustaining fisheries in Florida’s Apalachicola Bay
NSPD: Water Quantity, Governance, Assets
Stakeholder Types: Federated state/territorial/provincial government, Sovereign state/national/federal government, Industry/Corporate Interest
Variables: 1. Water quantity (water supply) 2. Assets (urban development and economic activity) 3. Governance (water management and storage policies/plans)
Stakeholders: 1. Fisherman (industry) 2. State of Florida (territorial government) 3. US Department of the Interior (national government)4. US Environmental Protection Agency (national government)
Inter-state political tension
NSPD: Water Quantity, Ecosystems, Governance
Stakeholder Types: Federated state/territorial/provincial government
Variables: 1. Ecosystem (fishery and bay ecosystem health) 2. Water quality (quality of water in streams and entering bay) 3. Governance (compliance with environmental protection policies and mandates)
Stakeholders: 1. State of Georgia (territorial government) 2. State of Alabama (territorial government)3. State of Florida (territorial government
Analysis, Synthesis, and Insight
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Agricultural production has received far less attention than other water uses in the ACF, and agricultural management has been largely overlooked as a source of potential means of addressing the basin’s water issues. This is surprising, given that agriculture is generally a relatively inefficient user of water and may offer significant “low-hanging fruit” for water savings. Since agriculture is a dominant user of water in the ACF and the primary use of water in the Flint River sub-basin (Georgia Department of Natural Resources 2006), attention should be paid to how agricultural policies and management can be used to improve water management in the basin. Can agricultural policies, mainly rethinking subsidies, encourage water savings in the Flint River Basin, thereby helping to address basin-wide conflict in the ACF?
Contributed by: L. Kuhl (last edit: 28 October 2013)
Balancing Industries & Sectors: What role can agricultural subsidies play in finding solutions to complex water management problems?
1. Do agricultural subsidies influence water use in the Flint River Basin? Our analysis shows that agricultural subsidies play a key role in influencing what crops farmers grow, thereby directly affecting water use in the basin.
2. Can agricultural subsidies potentially be used to improve water management and reduce conflict in the ACF basin? This analysis suggests that altering national subsidies for certain crops could significantly reduce agricultural water requirements in the Flint, thereby freeing up water for other uses in the ACF and potentially reducing conflict.
3. Can agricultural policy and management—particularly subsidies—promote more sustainable water use in water-stressed basins? The case of the Flint River Basin suggests that agricultural policies and management strategies, such as direct subsidies to farmers, can be used to reduce water demand and potentially promote more sustainable water use in water-stressed basins.
See the article Agricultural Subsidies for more information on agricultural subsidies within the Flint River Basin
Influence Leadership and Power: How do national policies influence water use at the local level?
This case study indicates that national policies, such as government subsidies for certain crops, can significantly influence water use at the local level. By altering subsidies to encourage farmers to grow more water-efficient crops, national policy could potentially support more sustainable water use. However, it is important to keep in mind that changing government agricultural subsidies will have many other social and economic effects that must be considered.
- ^ Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC). (2012, February 15). Tri-State Wars. http://www.atlantaregional.com/environment/tri-state-water-wars
- ^ 2.0 2.1 USACE Mobile District Websites “ACF - Project Background” accessed October 2013 http://www.sam.usace.army.mil/Missions/PlanningEnvironmental/ACFMasterWaterControlManualUpdate/ACFProjectBackground.aspx
- ^ USACE Mobile District Websites “ACF - FAQ” accessed October 2013 http://www.sam.usace.army.mil/Missions/PlanningEnvironmental/ACFMasterWaterControlManualUpdate/ACFFAQ.aspx
- ^ 4.0 4.1 4.2 Marella, R., & Fanning, J. (2011). Water Withdrawals, Wastewater Discharge, and Water Consumption in the Apalachicola- Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, 2005, and Water-Use Trends, 1970–2005. pubs.usgs.gov. Reston, Virginia. Retrieved from http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2011/5130/
- ^ Alley, W.M., Evenson, E.J., Barber, N.L., Bruce, B.W., Dennehy, K.F., Freeman, M.C., Freeman, W.O., Fischer, J.M., Hughes, W.B., Kennen, J.G., Kiang, J.E., Maloney, K.O., Musgrove, MaryLynn, Ralston, Barbara, Tessler, Steven, and Verdin J.P., 2013, Progress toward establishing a national assessment of water availability and use: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1384, 34 p., available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/1384
- ^ 6.0 6.1 Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Division. (2006) Flint River Basin Regional Water Development and Conservation Plan. March 20, 2006. online: http://www1.gadnr.org/frbp/Assets/Documents/Plan22.pdf
- ^ Couch, C., & McDowell, R. J. (2006). Flint River Basin Regional Water Development and Conservation Plan. Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection.
- ^ 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (March 2013) Final Updated Scoping Report Environmental Impact Statement Update of the Water Control Manual for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin, in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia online http://www.sam.usace.army.mil/Portals/46/docs/planning_environmental/acf/docs/1ACF%20Scoping%20Report_Mar2013.pdf
- ^ Alvarez, L. June 2 2013. A Fight Over Water, and to Save a Way of Life New York Times (Page A9, New York Edition) accessed online September 2013: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/03/us/thirst-for-fresh-water-threatens-apalachicola-bay-fisheries.html
- ^ "Couret, J. Aug 9, 2012 ARC: Metro Atlanta population hits 4.17 million" Atlanta Business Chronicle http://www.bizjournals.com/atlanta/news/2012/08/09/arc-metro-atlanta-population-hits.html?page=all
- ^ Florida DEP 2009 "Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River System (ACF) Timeline of Action As of July 27, 2009" Accessed online October 2013: http://www.dep.state.fl.us/mainpage/acf/timeline.htm
|Agreement||Flint River Basin Plan + and Georgia Water Stewardship Act +|
|Area||21,900 km² (8,455.59 mi²) +|
|Climate||Dry-summer + and temperate +|
|Geolocation||33° 40' 7", -84° 26' 22.9999"Latitude: 33.6686111|
Longitude: -84.4397222 +
|Issue||Maintaining water supply for agriculture and irrigation +, Ensuring sufficient water for upstream municipal and industrial uses +, Maintaining ecological health and sustaining fisheries in Florida’s Apalachicola Bay + and Inter-state political tension +|
|Key Question||What role can agricultural subsidies play in finding solutions to complex water management problems? + and How do national policies influence water use at the local level? +|
|Land Use||agricultural- cropland and pasture + and agricultural- confined livestock operations +|
|NSPD||Water Quantity +, Governance +, Assets + and Ecosystems +|
|Population||6.7 million +|
|Riparian||United States of America +, Georgia (U.S.) +, Alabama + and Florida +|
|Stakeholder Type||Federated state/territorial/provincial government +, Industry/Corporate Interest +, Sovereign state/national/federal government +, Local Government + and Community or organized citizens +|
|Water Feature||Apalachicola- Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin +|
|Water Project||Flint River Watershed Coalition +|
|Water Use||Agriculture or Irrigation +, Domestic/Urban Supply + and Fisheries - wild +|
|Has subobjectThis property is a special property in this wiki.||Competing Demands Among Water Uses in the Apalachicola- Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin + and Competing Demands Among Water Uses in the Apalachicola- Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin +|