One river system — with varying efforts to save it



EUFAULA, Ala. — The Chattahoochee River is a single stream flowing towards Florida. But there were two very different activities going on this week that showed the contrasting ways in which people and institutions can deal with a water issue.

Participants in Paddle Georgia 2014 follow the Chattahoochee River into metro Atlanta.
Participants in Paddle Georgia 2014 follow the Chattahoochee River into metro Atlanta.

Along the banks of Lake Eufaula, created by a dam across the Chattahoochee River, representatives of groups, utilities and industries along the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system were grappling with how to write and implement a sustainable water use plan for the river system.

Further upstream in Atlanta, participants in Paddle Georgia 2014 were learning about the history and many uses of the river while making new friends and having a good time outdoors.

“Our hope is to give them an interest in the issues,” said Joe Cook, a Paddle Georgia 2014 organizer. “So if they see something in the newspaper that says Chattahoochee River or Flint River, they’ll pay attention to it.”

Last October, Florida Gov. Rick Scott asked the U. S. Supreme Court to set an allocation for sharing water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system.

Scott said Georgia’s refusal to share water threatened generations of Florida families that depend on Apalachicola Bay for fishing. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal responded that the lawsuit was “frivolous” and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama signed the federal Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) that included language urging the governors among the states to work out their differences so that federal reservoir operations are not affected.

In Eufaula, more than 40 members of groups representing businesses, water utilities, agriculture and environmentalists were meeting — mostly in closed executive session — to develop a plan they hope the governors and the public will support this fall.

“I feel like we’re working towards what’s in that (federal) WRDA bill, which is a three-state agreement,” said Jim McClatchey during the meeting ACF Stakeholders group that he chairs. “We’ve got to get the governors to buy into our plan once we have a plan.”

He is CEO of Southern Aluminum Finishing Co. in Atlanta.

Group members heard about options during a 3-1/2 hour public meeting for creating a new group, called a trans-boundary water management institution, that could be needed once a plan is recommended.

Laurie Fowler of the University of Georgia speaks to the ACF Stakeholders group in Eufaula, Ala.
Laurie Fowler of the University of Georgia speaks to the ACF Stakeholders group in Eufaula, Ala.

Such an institution could serve as a data clearinghouse, work on consensus-building and conflict resolution and deal with water management planning including water conservation and drought membership, said Laurie Fowler of the University of Georgia School of Law.

No decision on the proposal was expected this week, McClatchey said.

Further upstream, in Atlanta, the legal dispute and policy wrangling were more distant for the Paddle Georgia participants.

On Monday, they paddled past mansions in Atlanta, under interstate highway bridges and through the scenic Chattahoochee National Recreation Area before passing the Atlanta drinking water supply plant, a sewage discharge plant and other industrial plants on the city’s southwest side.

Joe Cook, organizer of Paddle Georgia 2014.
Joe Cook, organizer of Paddle Georgia 2014.

The main experience for participants is developing a relationship with the Chattahoochee River, Cook said. He is co-author with his wife, Monica, of “River Song,” a beautiful photographic book recording their trip in 1995 down the Chattahoochee from the Georgia mountains to Florida, where they continued on the Apalachicola River to the Gulf of Mexico.

“Basically it’s like any relationship you have,” Cook said. “If you want to have a decent relationship with something, you’ve got to spend time with that person or whatever it is.

“So the idea with this is if you spend time with a river, you’re going build a relationship with a river. Then you’ll be more interested in taking care of it.”

(Story and photos copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained from

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