Restoring the Health of Georgia’s Flint River

Georgia’s Flint River is one of only 40 rivers left in the United States that flow for more than 200 miles undammed, and American Rivers intends to keep the Flint that way.

Rising from humble origins just south of Atlanta – the river’s headwater streams actually flow out of pipes buried beneath the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International – the Flint quickly becomes a water supply source for communities in the southern part of the Atlanta metropolitan area and downstream throughout west-central Georgia.

Sadly, the upper Flint River has been running dry in recent years. This is a problem not just for wildlife that depend on the river, but also for the outfitters who make a living sending paddlers through its scenic reaches along Sprewell Bluff and Yellow Jacket Shoals, and for the communities that depend on the Flint for water supply.

The reasons for the drop in river flows on the Flint are many. They include the urbanization of the landscape at the river’s source, wetland loss, changing rainfall patterns with more frequent and intense drought, dams on tributary streams throughout the Flint’s headwaters, increasing water withdrawals from the river system, and transfers of water from the Flint to other river basins.

In addition to these threats to a living, healthy Flint River system, the river has been targeted for major dam construction projects. Dam proposals vetoed by then-governor Jimmy Carter in the 1970s have resurfaced in the 21st century as part of a misguided response to historic drought conditions and continued growth in metro Atlanta. (It was due to this threat that we recently included the Flint on our America’s Most Endangered Rivers® list.) American Rivers’ work toward a sustainable river system includes standing with our partners such as the Flint Riverkeeper to oppose these proposals for destructive dams on the Flint.

American Rivers’ work in the Flint River basin seeks to restore and protect river flows in the upper Flint River by doing five things:

  • Working with water providers and state agencies to leave more water in the river through water efficiency and eliminating waste (read more about our work on water efficiency in the Southeast);
  • Restoring flows in the upper Flint River through replacing hard surfaces with green infrastructure that harnesses nature, such as rain gardens, restored wetlands and natural floodplains;
  • Advocating for sustainable water supply solutions that are cheaper, faster, less risky and more reliable than new dams;
  • Developing a “water budget” for the upper Flint River basin that assesses the relative impacts on river flows from a variety of factors including reservoirs, water withdrawals and discharges, climate change, urbanization and water transfers between river basins – so that we can best target work to restore river flows; and
  • Spearheading a long-term river protection strategy that ensures river health and reliable clean water supplies for surrounding communities.

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