By: David Hanson
The Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers have collided where Georgia, Florida, and Alabama meet. Michael and I have reunited, and a major legislative action was decided on in the state house.
Two weeks ago we paddled our separate ways out of Atlanta. We’d traveled from the north Georgia source of the ‘Hooch, through the massive Lake Lanier reservoir and into our hometown of Atlanta. Mom fed us well. Then Michael continued on down the Hooch, and I took a tour of the Flint River headwaters. Ben Emmanuel of American Rivers showed us where the Flint flows down a concrete culvert beside an acres-big strip mall parking lot. It’s not the idyllic mountain spring of the Hooch, but the Flint eventually becomes a wild river, one of only 40 in the continental U.S. that flow undammed for over 200 miles. Dozens of river-wide shoals stair-step the river through the Pine Mountain range and down the Fall Line, ending at the Class III Yellow Jacket Shoals below Jim and Margie McDaniels’ Flint River Outdoor Center. I lined and dragged and shoved the loaded boat down Yellow Jacket Shoals and finally hit the flat plains of south-central Georgia. Gators showed up on sunny riverbanks. I didn’t see many people and camped on sandbars that had collected on the slow inside of the river’s seemingly endless bends.
Michael paddled parallel me the whole time, 60 miles or so to the west. The ‘Hooch is an engineered river along the Alabama-Georgia border, a river for 50 miles followed by a long, impounded lake for another 25. Michael still hasn’t filled me in on details from his two weeks, but we’ll catch up enough over the next week down the Apalachicola. He watched playboaters surf the new waves built in Columbus, where two relic dams have been removed. He was nearly flooded out of his tent when the river rose five feet as he was sleeping on a sand beach below Valley, Ala.’s Langdale Dam. He had to call up our old friend Uncle Tony near Columbia, Ala. to rescue him from a sketchy character lurking around an empty campground near the George W. Andrews Dam. He ate fried catfish pulled straight from bush lines along the lower Hooch where our friend Rusty Blackburn manages the Neals Landing Campground.
I recently sat in on a meeting in Mitchell County, in the heart of the lower Flint’s agricultural basin. More than 20 farmers—from age 25 to 75—, a few agriculture/irrigation researchers from the University of Georgia, a hydrologist and a scientist from the Jones Center listened as Gail Cowie from Georgia’s Environment Protection Division presented the pending revision of the 2002 Flint Drought Protection Act. A major and controversial part of the amendment would have created the pathway for continued experimental research into augmenting stream flow via water pulled from the Floridan aquifer. It would, in effect, have been an attempt to create, or engineer, more water. Proponents think it could be the answer to upper Flint municipal water needs while leaving enough water for lower Flint farmers. To many farmers in that room and many of the conservation groups in the state of Georgia, it sounded like a grossly overpriced experiment at best and, at worst, the potential to lead to water being owned and transferred among users.
But the conservationists won yesterday in the State House. They shot down SB-213, and the stream augmentation amendment will not be passed.
The issue of who owns water and how we can share it into the future remains. Engineering does work, but it’s not the only answer. We’ll keep paddling. It just gets more interesting the farther we move down river, in terms of both policy and the river and river people it fosters – houseboat dwellers in Ocheesee Landing, tupelo honey apiaries in Wewahitchka and the oysters and seafood of Apalachicola Bay…