A U.S. Senate committee is scheduled to hold a hearing Tuesday in the city of Apalachicola on the plight of Apalachicola Bay. The session should show members how the lack of fresh water is killing the bay and, we hope, spark action.
Sen. Marco Rubio pushed for the visit by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and hopes the exposure will finally get Washington to come to the estuary’s rescue.
Alas, the courts, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and, so far, Congress have done little to aid the fabled water body.
Georgia is freely allowed to take water out of the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint rivers, primarily to supply the drinking water to the Atlanta region.
With less fresh water flow, Apalachicola Bay’s salinity levels dangerously increase, damaging the estuary, particularly its famed oysters, a fishery that has virtually collapsed in recent years.
Not long ago, the bay produced 10 percent of the country’s oysters and 90 percent of the state’s.
The situation is the result of Georgia allowing runaway growth in the Atlanta region with scant concern for water supplies.
It became dependent on Lake Lanier, the reservoir created by the federally constructed Buford Dam, though that project was intended for flood control, navigation and hydropower.
No regard was given to the impact on how water diversions of the river system would affect Florida or Alabama, where roughly 800,000 households depend on a nuclear plant that relies on river flow.
The Army Corps was equally indifferent.
As Alabama’s Sen. Jeff Sessions recently pointed out, the Corps allowed the amount of water the Atlanta area took from the lake daily to increase from 10 million gallons in the 1950s to 170 million. Now, not enough water is making its way downstream, particularly during droughts.
Some have tried to dismiss the conflict as a case of marine life being valued more than people. That’s baloney. This is a matter of irresponsible state policies jeopardizing another state’s resources, industries and livelihoods.
Only recently has Georgia taken any meaningful steps to conserve water.
Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Rubio have tried to help, offering legislation that would ensure Florida and Alabama more water, but last May the Senate deleted the provision before passing the 2013 Water Resources Development Act.
But the senators haven’t given up.
After the panel announced the visit, Rubio issued a statement that conveyed the seriousness of the crisis: “Understanding the effects of this disaster on the local community, supporting industries and regional economy are key to appreciating the significance of the Apalachicola Bay and its situation.”
Rubio does not exaggerate. What is happening to Apalachicola Bay is a disaster. No one suggests metropolitan Atlanta forgo drinking water, but it can curtail its prolific water use.
It’s time Washington gave Apalachicola Bay and the fishing and tourism businesses it sustains a break.