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Last updated 2:38AM ET
February 26, 2021
Florida Says Tri-State Water Dispute Not About Mussels
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - Floridians upset by the lower flows coming down the Apalachicola River from Georgia made a clear point Monday: The tri-state battle over water isn't just a case of people vs. mussels.

Over and over again, people speaking at a forum organized by U.S. Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Fla., accused Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue of trivializing the river's importance to Florida by saying Georgia's need for drinking water outweighs the needs of mussels.

"Georgia's governor is fond of saying this is a people versus mussels issue regarding Atlanta and the Apalachicola River and Bay," said Jeremy Branch, a Jackson County, Fla., commissioner. "The issue at hand is Atlanta's greed and gluttony versus Floridians' necessity and survival."

Branch said recreational fishing businesses in his county rely on the river, yet boats are running aground in the middle of it. And the lower flows have affected groundwater levels to the point where area farmers are having a harder time irrigating crops.

Boyd, along with Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Mel Martinez, is seeking a National Academy of Sciences study of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin to help resolve the nearly three-decade battle between Florida, Alabama and Georgia over how the rivers and reservoirs are used and managed.

Greater Atlanta relies heavily on water in the north end of the system, including the Lake Lanier reservoir, while Florida is concerned about the ecological impact at its end of the system. The Army Corps of Engineers has reduced the amount of water flowing south into Florida while the region has been in a severe drought.

Environmentalists say three endangered mussels and a protected species of sturgeon could be hurt by the lower water flows, but the issue is not just about those creatures, officials from the region said. Oyster beds are being reduced and shrimp are disappearing, and if the problems continue, tourism will decline along with the seafood industry. Even honey production is affected because the river's flood plains are drying up, which hurts tupelo blooms.

"The most endangered species in Florida are the two-legged kind the commercial fishermen on the bay and the tupelo honey harvesters in the flood plain," said David McLain of the Apalachicola Riverkeepers and the Apalachicola River Riparian County Stakeholder Coalition.

Joe "Smokey" Parrish, a Franklin County commissioner whose family owns a seafood processing company, said his company handled a half million pounds of shrimp caught in the Apalachicola Bay during a three month period in 2005. Since then, it has only processed 10,000 pounds of shrimp from the bay.

He choked up as he spoke, pausing and taking off his glasses to rub his eyes.

"Anyone who has lived along the river or the bay, or made their living from them, knows something is happening," Parrish said. "You don't have to be a scientist to see and understand this."

Corps Brig. Gen. Joseph Schroedel said he has already heard about the problems, but there's not much he can do about them right now. He supports the idea of the study.

"We at the corps share the losses up and down this entire basin," he said. "Everyone is suffering. Bottom line: There is not enough water in this system top-to-bottom to meet all the demands."

Still, Florida Environmental Secretary Michael Sole said that the system is not being managed fairly. Georgia farmers are not being asked to conserve water, yet Florida has to do without, he said.

"The way we're managing the system today is after the upriver system has consumed all that they've needed, the rest of it we'll share," Sole said.

And speakers repeatedly called for Atlanta to take conservation measures and to better manage its water supply.

"They can fill up their pools, they can wash their cars, they're dancing in the water up there and we can barely survive down here," said Franklin County Commissioner Russell Crofton.

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