Corps of Engineers would give Georgia more water but less than requested

Wed, Sep 30, 2015

1 Comment

10-23-14 ACF dams

A U. S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal released Wednesday would provide about 15 percent less water from the Chattahoochee River for Georgia cities than the state requested in 2013 but substantially more water than they are using now.

The federal agency says the effect on Apalachicola Bay, where oysters populations have been suffering, would be negligible compared to existing water use. But Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida criticized the proposal for failing to help the bay.

Alabama, Florida and Georgia have been battling in federal court over water from the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint rivers since 1990. Florida in 2013 sued Georgia in the U. S. Supreme Court over water use affecting the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint rivers.

Georgia earlier in 2013 had asked the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide for cities 705 million gallons per day from the Chattahoochee River and Lake Lanier reservoir north of Atlanta, or nearly 75 percent more water than the cities currently are being allowed to use.

An oysterman harvests oysters from Apalachicola Bay.

An oysterman harvests oysters from Apalachicola Bay. Photo by Bruce Ritchie.

The Corps of Engineers, through a draft water control manual update and environmental impact statement, on Wednesday proposed providing 593 million gallons per day from the river and Lake Lanier. Georgia cities now have contracts to use 20 million gallons per day but receive 405 million gallons from Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River.

Compared to current water use, the proposal would have negligible effects on Apalachicola Bay, the federal agency said.

There was no comment from state officials in Florida and Georgia as they said they were taking time to review the proposal. In July, Florida Gov. Rick Scott met privately with Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal in Tallahassee to discuss water but no details were provided. Both states are operating under a confidentiality order they requested earlier this year in the Supreme Court case.

Nelson, D-Melbourne, said through a spokesman, “Apparently, the draft released today isn’t going to change one thing to help Apalachicola Bay. This is very disappointing.”

Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee, said the Corps’ environmental impact study does not address the devastating harm being done to Apalachicola By by the withholding of fresh water.

“At best, this will keep in place the status quo,” she said. “At worst, it could cause further harm to the bay’s ecology and to our economy.”

As part of its water control manual update, the Corps of Engineers “evaluated an array of potential water management and water supply storage alternatives during the (water control manual) update process,” E. Patrick Robbins, a Corps spokesman in Mobile, Ala., said in a statement.

Under the proposed alternative, the Corps “would continue to operate the ACF (Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint rivers) as a system in a balanced manner to achieve all authorized project purposes,” Robbins said.

The proposal will be followed by a 60-day comment period and five public hearings in the three states, including a scheduled Nov. 9 hearing in Eastpoint. A final decision is expected to be issued in the spring of 2017.

Florida’s lawyers have told the Supreme Court that the Water Control Manual update is unrelated to their legal case. Florida seeks to cap Georgia’s water use so as to provide more flow in the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint rivers irrespective of how the Corps operates its dams.

Alabama and Georgia generally want water for cities and industries while Florida wants to support fish and wildlife in the Apalachicola River and the seafood industry at Apalachicola Bay.

The Corps proposal released Wednesday also will be reviewed by the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service for compliance with the federal Endangered Species Act. The Corps of Engineers says no effects are expected on threatened Gulf sturgeon or threatened and endangered mussels in the Apalachicola River.

Alabama and Florida sued the Corps of Engineers in 1990 after it proposed reallocating Lake Lanier water from hydropower to water use for cities as part of a proposed water control manual update. Those cases were consolidated in a case that was put on hold in 2011 pending the Corps of Engineers action.

10-3-13 House boats and dock SM

Houseboats are docked and available for rent at Point Royale Marina on lake Lanier. Photo by Bruce Ritchie.

In 2013, Georgia renewed an earlier request of 705 million gallons per day to meet water use needs through 2040 as the Atlanta area’s population was expected to grow from 3.3 million to 6 million. Florida officials in turn urged the Corps to require water conservation in Georgia and release more water from Lake Lanier during droughts to provide for the ecological health of Apalachicola Bay and the Apalachicola River floodplain.

Recreation, boating and tourism around Lake Lanier also play an important role in the water dispute. The Corps of Engineers says the proposal would result in a decreased annual value of recreation on Lake Lanier of less than 1 percent and other reservoirs would not be affected.

(Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be requested at bruceBritchie@gmail.com)

Strong El Nino could bring winter rains to southeast

Tue, Jul 21, 2015

Comments Off on Strong El Nino could bring winter rains to southeast

Florida state climatologist David Zierden.

Florida state climatologist David Zierden.


The strong El Nino now underway is expected to bring heavy rains to the southeast in the upcoming winter but some drier weeks until then, Florida state climatologist David Zierden said Tuesday.

El Nino refers to a climate pattern associated with high air pressure in the western Pacific Ocean and low pressure in the eastern Pacific. In the Atlantic Ocean, the pattern also is associated with fewer tropical storms.

During a webinar to discuss drought assessments for the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint rivers in the southeast, Zierden explained that forecasters believe the current El Nino could become the strongest in recorded history.

“El Nino is coming on like gangbusters,” Zierden said, “and is looking like it’s going to be one of the major event of the century right now.”

He said very warm water is aligned along the equator from the South American coast to the western Pacific Ocean. Water temperatures there are 4 degrees Celsius above normal.

7-14-15 SE drought statusMany row crops along the rivers in Alabama, Florida and Georgia are in a critical period for growth in the next two to three weeks and are in need of water, Zierden said.

But El Nino frequently brings a drier weather patterns. And portions of the basin are drying out — “but nothing too drastic at this time,” he said.

Without rain in the next few weeks, the pressure on farmers to irrigate their crops will increase, Zierden said.

While the region usually can expect five to six inches of rain per month in July, that normally drops to three to five inches in August.

While Southeast Florida is in a severe drought, there is limited drought in Alabama and Georgia and very little in the Florida Panhandle.

In the past, heavy water demand has contributed to upper stretches of the Flint River near Atlanta going dry along with the Spring Creek tributary.

Zierden did not address stream and river flows. Other speakers said groundwater and stream flows were normal with flows declining as usual during the summer.

A decline in the Apalachicola River to below normal flow is slightly favored even without factoring in the El Nino, said Jeff Dobur of the Southeast River Forecast Center at the National Weather Service.

And Zierden noted that NOAA had forecast a 70 percent chance of six to 11 named tropical storms or hurricanes, which he said is far fewer than average.

El Nino creates unfavorable winds in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea for hurricanes and tropical storms, Zierden said, and that’s proving true this time.

“It is really a hostile environment out there for hurricane formation right now,” he said.

John Christy, Alabama state climatologist and director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, said surface water temperatures showing record warming from El Nino were puzzling when most of the atmospheric temperatures were not as high.

He also said there was an 85 percent chance of above normal rain in the southeast from El Nino.

“In climate forecasting, it’s just through the roof,” he said.

Zierden agreed the El Nino forecast was strong, saying any summer response to El Nino is more uncertain and inconsistent. But in the winter, and with this strong El Nino, the forecast is more certain.

“I’ve heard these El Ninos events called a forecast of opportunity,” Zierden said. “It’s kind of a rare opportunity to make one of the best, most accurate and strongest forecasts that you can.”

(Story and copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained from bruceBritchie@gmail.com.)

E. O. Wilson says death of M. C. Davis a “huge loss” for conservation

Mon, Jul 13, 2015



M. C. Davis, a Walton County developer who became a world-renowned conservationist, died on July 11 after a long bout with lung cancer. He was 70.

Harvard biologist Edward Wilson, left, and owner of the Nokuse Plantation property, M.C. Davis, listen to John Dindo, the director of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, during a tour of the conservation area in Bruce, Fla. on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2008.

Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson, left, and M. C. Davis, owner of the Nokuse Plantation, listen to John Dindo, the director of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, during a tour of Nokuse in 2008.

Davis purchased 50,000 acres in South Walton County to create a massive environmental restoration project he called Nokuse Plantation (pronounced No-GO-see). He also built the E. O. Wilson Biophilia Center there in honor of Harvard biology professor Edward O. Wilson.

Wilson, a two-time Pultizer Prize winner who in 2008 said he was “blown away” by Davis’ conservation efforts, called his death “a huge loss for the conservation movement in Florida and nationally.”

“M. C. (Davis) was a brilliant innovator who constructed conservation initiatives — big ones — on his own and pursued them increasingly to completion,” Wilson told Floridaenvironments.com on Monday.

“In conceiving and constructing and guiding the Wilson Biophilia Center, he brought an entirely new concept to natural history conservation and direction in the southeastern united states He was around the nation for many of us,” Wilson said. “I can testify personally … he was a creator of ideas, a constant stimulation to thought and action, and it is not too much to say an irreplaceable force of nature.”

Davis and Nokuse Plantation in 2008 were featured in “Wildlands Philanthropy: The Great American Tradition.” The 322-page coffee table book describes the likes of John D. Rockefeller Jr., who contributed to the creation of Acadia, Grand Tetons and Smoky Mountain national parks, and the Mellons, who helped conserve more than 2 million acres in Alaska.

Davis, a land-speculator turned “nature nut,” didn’t think he could rank among the titans of conservation who would be featured in the book. Yet, he saw himself in it when copies were sent to him.

“When you see the quality of our neighbors it’s really a humbling experience,” Davis told Florida’s Acquisition and Restoration Council in 2009.

The state and federal governments in 2004 purchased a conservation easement on 16,751 acres for $17.2 million.

In 2013, Florida and the federal government purchased another conservation easement on 20,800 acres for about $12.5 million, with most coming from the state Florida Forever program. Davis discounted the property by $7 million, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

“The money derived from it, as always, I’m recycling it back into nature,” Davis told the ARC Council in 2009. “I’m not making any money. I’m delighted to make a bargain sale. I think this is probably the biggest bang for the buck.”

The Air Force supported the purchases because they prevented development under the flight patterns of the fighter aircraft at nearby Eglin Air Force Base.

Davis ended his own life, according to an obituary published later on Legacy.com. “He had a plan, he carried it out flawlessly and he died at a place he loved the most,” the obituary said. Additional details were not provided.

Environmentalists said Davis provided a shining example of environmental stewardship in the region.

“He was not only a great American, but a truly monumental person who put his own personal fortune into fulfilling his conservation ethic,” Richard Hilsenbeck of The Nature Conservancy said Monday. “He helped conserve numerous and diverse species of wildlife and helped foster a better quality of life for all Floridians.”

Earlier this year, Davis faced opposition from south Walton County residents when he won approval for a Hampton Inn, the first chain hotel along trendy the coastal 30-A Highway. The Walton County Commission denied the project in April, according to The Walton Sun.

Davis previously said he made his money on land deals before hearing a Defenders of Wildlife lecture in the mid-1990s on black bears in Florida.

“I went from being a total right-wing capitalist to a tree-hugger in 90 days,” Davis said.

Davis paid for construction of the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center to teach Walton County students about the local wildlife and ecology. He said it’s an opportunity to expose the public and youth to the nature that previous generations grew up with.

“How are you going to love something and how are going to save it?” he said. “You are not going to save it unless you love it. And you are not going to love it unless you are exposed to it.”

(Editors note: This story was revised on Sept. 4, 2015 based upon new information on the cause of death.)

(Photo by Rob Davis, used with permission. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained from bruceBritchie@gmail.com.)

Comments Off on Court official in FL v. GA water case issues confidentiality order
Comments Off on Apalachicola group fires back at Georgia subpoena in water lawsuit