It’s a drought, stupid! pt. 3: Georgia and the Chattahoochee River

The first three words of the prologue of Jeffry Rothfeder’s 2001 book, Every Drop for Sale (at Amazon you can read the prologue; also a comprehensive review here) are The Chattahoochee River, set off from the text that follows with tasteful small caps. The Chattahoochee feeds Lake Lanier, Georgia’s rapidly-depleting primary reservoir.

Titled Beginning: Scenes of a Crisis, the chattahoochee_watershed.pngintroductory pages more or less predict Atlanta’s current desperate situation and help put the city’s water woes and the Southeast’s drought in perspective: Atlantans–or at least its ruling junta of developers and their cronies–are not victims of the current drought. They are victims of their own greed and failure to act responsibly.

Admittedly, Rothfeder is an unusually well-informed fellow, but we can probably assume that if he knew of the dangers in 2001, then powerful Atlantans knew as well and just ignored them and hoped for the best. If Atlanta runs out of water, it is their fault.

Atlanta has shown an almost bizarre disregard for the inevitable consequences of unbridled growth in an area that relies almost solely on one source of water, the mightily overused and abused Chattahoochee, which has got to be the hardest working river in flow business. [Ed note: Sorry.] A small body of water north of Atlanta, Allatoona Lake, is a secondary source, but the city currently faces losing rights to some of that.

But the developers and their political enablers in the behemoth of northern Georgia have also shown similar indifference to their fellow citizens, not just those of Florida and Alabama (related story here), who also depend on the Chattahootchee, but also fellow Georgians to the south who use the river’s water for irrigation.

The map above highlights the Apalachicola River system—the more detailed river at the left, which forms half of the Georgia/Alabama border, is the Chattahoochee, which Georgians refer to as the Hooch. The juncture of the Chattahoochee and Flint river near Florida’s border marks the beginning of the Apalachicola River, which eventually pours into the Apalachicola Bay.

As the astute notes in this entry about Atlanta’s predicament, (gracias a information from Cynthia Barnett’s book Mirage):

The [Apachicola] bay remains pristine not because of high-minded environmental concerns on the part of Floridians–don’t make us snort tap water out of our noses–but because it is the home of a thriving shellfish industry. A continued flow of freshwater dilutes the seawater, keeping ocean-based predators out of the bay and guaranteeing that their prey will be served in the restaurants and homes of land-based predators.

In 1991, Atlanta pumped 3.8 billion gallons of water from the Hooch; in 2001 the figure jumped to 20 billion gallons. Rationality would dictate that the powers-that-be advocate conserving water and limiting growth. But until very recently rationality has been off the table in greed-driven Atlanta, and the city’s “leaders” have chosen instead to grab more of the beleaguered Hooch’s water with new dams and reservoirs and to merrily continue building out every square foot of the region. All of this of course is enraging municipalities, regions, and states to the south.

Oh, and Atlanta is polluting the Hooch’s water for the folks downstream as well. This blog entry from North Georgia writer and naturalist, Randy Golden, traces the flow of the Chattahoochee, from a tiny stream north of Atlanta to a river that provides water to millions of Georgians:

Finally, the river passes to its death, at least for the next 50 miles downstream. The city of Atlanta so heavily pollutes its waters that the river becomes a wasteland. And according to the city, little can be done to prevent the pollution that costs Atlanta millions of dollars a year in EPA fines.

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