The Fight for the Flint Goes On

This is a guest blog from Gordon Rogers, Riverkeeper and Executive Director at Flint Riverkeeper.

Flint River at Albany low water | © Flint Riverkeeper

Low water in the Flint River at Albany, GA | © Flint Riverkeeper

Six months ago, when American Rivers listed the Flint in the #2 spot on the America’s Most Endangered Rivers® list, here in Georgia we had just wrapped up the 2013 state legislative session. With our partners, we at Flint Riverkeeper stood strong against proposals that would undermine the fundamentals of water rights in our state—proposals that would be the opposite of creating a smart water management plan for the Flint River basin.

As we pointed out to Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and other state leaders when the America’s Most Endangered Rivers list came out, what we need is an intelligent water plan that will work for water users up and down the entire Flint basin, from Metro Atlanta to the Florida state line. We and our partners stood firm against state Senate Bill 213, a bill to revise the Flint River Drought Protection Act, in the form it took in the 2013 legislative session. The good news is that the bill didn’t get out of the state House of Representatives this year, but we’re as vigilant as ever in looking ahead to the 2014 legislative session.

More good news: We had a very rainy spring and summer, so the Flint and its tributaries have had more water in them than we’ve seen in years. We know there will be more drought years to come, and indeed the river is already dropping again, but most of 2013 has turned out to be a year of some temporary reprieve: time to work on the comprehensive drought and water management plan that the Flint so desperately needs.

Now the… other news: We’ve spent the summer watching closely as projects and proposals closely tied to the fatal flaws in state Senate Bill 213 have continued to change shape. Chief among these is a proposal to experiment with aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) technology in the aquifers of Southwest Georgia in a bid to provide for “surface water augmentation” and try to enable further unsustainable, inequitable water use practices in Metro Atlanta and North Georgia. Over the summer, the management of this experiment changed hands and landed in the lap of a state agency, the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority.

The proponents of this project claim it is unrelated to Senate Bill 213. Whether it is or not, the scheme purports to deal with the flow needs of endangered species, but it also proposes to enable additional water consumption in North Georgia, further starving the middle and lower Chattahoochee River for water, and doing nothing for flow issues in the upper and middle Flint.

These are a lot of twists and turns, yes, but they add up to one thing: our state leaders do not appear serious about creating any kind of comprehensive, accountable plan to manage water intelligently throughout our beautiful and threatened Flint River basin, instead offering expensive, unsustainable, highly engineered solutions that sidestep the core issues. This is why the river is still very much endangered.

We’ve got to safeguard the fundamentals of water rights and property rights in Georgia. This is no mere distraction, because until we do, dangerous proposals that threaten these rights and the Flint River itself will continue to gain traction among certain powerful interests in our state.

Looking ahead, Flint Riverkeeper’s goal is to remove the dangerous language from state Senate Bill 213, or to defeat the bill altogether. A longer-term goal is to craft revisions to the Flint River Drought Protection Act that will balance management measures among agricultural, municipal and industrial users throughout the entire Flint River basin. It is completely unfair and inequitable, before the law and otherwise, to focus water supply management on only one use sector, such as agriculture, or on one part of the river, such as only the lower Flint. The Flint should be managed as a watershed. That’s how it functions, that’s how our Creator made it, and its healthy functioning depends on this wholeness.

Six months later, in other words, there’s still a lot of work to be done here. We hope you’ll keep standing with us, and with the endangered Flint.