From plentiful to scarce, water supply brought on the battle.
In the areas where water is scarce, communities have an inherent understanding of conservation. For those of us living in the verdant Southeastern US, water once seemed ever-abundant — until the significant population growth of the past three decades combined with an extended drought to bring the region to crisis water levels.
The 2007 drought in the Southeast brought water issues into the national spotlight. However, the local debate over water sharing had begun many years earlier in 1989, when Alabama first sued the US Army Corps of Engineers for allowing Lake Lanier* to supply water to Atlanta area municipalities. The suit claimed that the withdrawals were made without regard to downstream interests, and that the federally-managed reservoir was built for the purposes of flood control, hydropower and navigation — not water supply.
For the past 22 years, the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin case has been tied up in the courts. In July 2009, U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson gave the governors of Alabama, Georgia and Florida three years to settle their differences and negotiate an agreement for water allocation. With the July 2012 deadline drawing closer, the states have made little headway. Regardless of the outcome of the next court ruling, the case is likely to remain in appeal and the region remains in need of a water sharing solution.
How can the people who live, work and utilize the water resources of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Basin work together to share a common resource?
Finding an answer to this question inspired a small group people in the ACF Basin to begin investigating strategies and making action plans for sharing the water in August 2008. With guidance from the US Institute for environmental Conflict Resolution (an independent federal agency), ACF Stakeholders was formed.
Stakeholder forums held throughout the basin confirmed a very real desire to collaborate. With litigation and politics unable to resolve the issues, a grassroots effort was launched by individuals and groups most impacted by the situation – the stakeholders themselves. On March 2, 2009 35 volunteers representing all 4 regions of the ACF Basin became the founding Steering Committee of ACF Stakeholders, Inc. (ACFS). From the beginning, the charter members knew that the organization had to include representation from all interest groups if it was to realize the potential for real compromise.
ACFS is moving into the future with a solid plan for success.
Incorporated as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in September 2009, ACFS is a diverse group of cities, counties, industries, businesses, fishermen, farmers, historic/cultural, environmental, conservation and recreation groups from all three states — working together for the first time to achieve a common goal. They have all joined the organization to be a part of the solution. Their mission is to achieve equitable water-sharing solutions among stakeholders that balance economic, ecological, and social values, while ensuring sustainability for current and future generations.
Having established a strong organizational infrastructure and a forward-thinking strategic planning process, ACFS’s mission statement and goals are being carried out by a volunteer-driven executive committee and workgroups. The workgroups are building consensus in the areas of financial, charter, stakeholder outreach, and work plan issues. ACFS is now ready to develop a Sustainable Water Management Plan for the Basin. Through scientific modeling and a shared vision process, ACFS strives toward a sustainable solution that works for everyone in the ACF Basin.
*Lake Lanier is the largest reservoir in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin, maintaining 62% of the storage for the entire 19,600 square-mile watershed which stretches from the southern Appalachian Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico at Apalachicola Bay – an area with 5 million residents.