The requested resource (/media/wual/header/pb/header.html) is not available
Last updated 1:56AM ET
February 26, 2021
Florida Says Atlanta Water Use Hurting Wildlife
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - Sen. Bill Nelson saw the dry shoals along the Apalachicola River where rare mussels should be thriving and the shrunken pools which should be filled with stripped bass, and promised Tuesday to do what he can to help get more water released into the waterway.

Nelson traveled 25 miles of the river, which provides spawning areas for protected sturgeon and the freshwater needed to help oysters survive in Apalachicola Bay, seeing how the decision to hold more water in Georgia is hurting life downstream in Florida.

He said he will push for a National Academy of Sciences study of the river to show how lower water flow affects it, and perhaps that will bring more attention to Florida's concerns.

But Nelson also cautioned officials from the six Florida counties along the river that he didn't have a magic wand to wave when he gets back to Washington to make sure the state's interests are a priority in the water war with Georgia.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has allowed Georgia to keep more water upstream in Lake Lanier under an emergency plan put in place because of a drought. The plan will expire this week, but the corps has another management plan set to begin June 1 that would let Georgia keep more water in the federal reservoir and allow even less to flow downstream.

A court ruled this month that the federal reservoir's primary purposes are for navigation and to provide hydropower. The lake also provides water for the Atlanta area, and Georgia officials want to tap more water from the reservoir. Nelson promised to fight any efforts in Congress that would allow the reservoir to primarily be used for municipal purposes.

At several stops along the three-hour tour, environmental officials and researchers told Nelson the river is being damaged. The fact that that mussel populations are diminishing is the sign of larger problems with the river's health, including declining fish populations.

"They're like the canary in the coal mine," said Steve Herrington, an ecologist with The Nature Conservancy. "Loss of these mussels are a symptom of something going wrong with the river. We can do something, but we have to do something soon."

The river is six feet below what it would normally be during a dry season, Nelson was told. Some areas where fish spawn are being exposed for the first time. And the lack of fresh water flowing into the Apalachicola Bay is hurting shrimp and oyster populations. Species that normally remain in the Gulf of Mexico are being found in the bay and upriver as salinity levels rise.

The nutrients that get washed into the river during its flood stages helps aquatic life all the way into the gulf, experts told Nelson.

"We're not just looking at a river in Florida, we're looking at the effects way on down into the Gulf of Mexico on the marine population. So I'm going to get to work on this and y'all keep the messages coming," Nelson said.

The state is suing to stop the Army Corps of Engineers from allowing the lower flows, citing environmental and economic concerns. State Environmental Secretary Mike Sole also joined Nelson on the tour.

Officials are concerned a low-level flow for an extended period will cause irreversible damage.

"It's a lot cheaper to save what we have than to try to repair it, like the Everglades," said Lee Edmiston, a research coordinator with the Department of Environmental Protection.
© Copyright 2021, APR - Alabama Public Radio