Chattahoochee Journal: Waking Morpheus

The brothers begin their journey to learn who owns the Chattahoochee.

By: David Hanson

Morpheus hadn’t moved since I put him to rest there in November 2009. I know boats are supposed to be female, but I named the canoe I borrowed from Chattahoochee Riverkeeper for my ‘Hooch float in 2009, Morpheus, God of Dreams. My grandfather, who had passed away earlier that year, used to announce his daily nap with the words “I’m off to the arms of Morpheus.” It seemed like a good name for a dirty old canoe that would float me down a dirty old river.

So I woke Morpheus from his slumber yesterday in the backyard of Sally Bethea, twenty-year director of the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, and a true river warrior. Bethea has won dozens of pivotal battles to protect the Hooch, few more important than in 2003 when she and other conservation- and progress-minded groups and leaders fought to keep water rights in GA from being sold or traded.

The American West and the East have completely different policies around water. Essentially, in the West, water rights are sold and traded to the various users, from agriculture to municipalities to private citizens. Water can be piped across county and state lines and traded among companies. A court battle in Georgia in 2003 presented that model as an option for the drought-prone state. Fortunately, Riverkeeper and others were able to maintain the traditional east-coast water policy that manages water as a public domain, not a commodity for sale. Still the question remains, who owns water?

Now, as in this week, the water talk of the town is the Flint River, the eastern prong of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin. The Flint’s Drought Protection Act, a mandate to pay farmers to stop irrigating during times of drought, is being reviewed. The policy didn’t work last year. The state didn’t claim drought status early enough, so the water table dropped too low for curtailed irrigation to make a difference. Plus, they never set aside the funds to pay the farmers, anyway. Now, the big battle is to keep the state from authorizing an amendment to draw water from a lower Georgia aquifer and pump it into the thirsty Flint.

All this lies downstream of us for now. We’re hosing down Morpheus today, picking up last-minute items, essentials like gummy bears and lens caps. Saturday morning at dawn we’ll walk into one of the ‘Hooch’s upper sources near the Appalachian Trail. We’ll crouch where the tiny trickle of water emerges from the steep slope of dried, frost-covered leaves. We’ll push the leaves aside and stick our faces in the fist-sized gurgle of clear, mica-and-sandstone-glittered water appearing out of nowhere. We’ll drink it, bottle some more to be cut into (legal) moonshine later, and then we’ll walk downhill, following that water (and, a week later, the Flint River when I go to its headwaters) to the Gulf of Mexico. Hopefully, Morpheus won’t spring a leak and we’ll see this river corridor from its perspective.

Here, some fun (sometimes scary) facts:

—The Flint River has one of only 40 free-flowing river reaches longer than 200 miles remaining in the contiguous 48 states.
—For the last decade, Atlanta has been the fastest growing metro area in country, yet the headwaters of the Chattahoochee, the city’s water source, is the smallest for any major metro area in the US.
—The Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) basin has the largest diversity of fish fauna among the Gulf Coast river drainages east of the Mississippi River.
—The lower part of the Flint River Basin, together with the upper part of the Apalachicola basin, has the highest species density of amphibians and reptiles on the continent, north of Mexico.
—American Rivers named the Flint as the #2 most endangered rivers in the US in 2009, largely due to over-allocation of water for irrigation and the threat of a dam to supply water to Atlanta.
—American Rivers named the Chattahoochee River the #3 most endangered river in 2012, also due to plans for new reservoirs in the watershed.
—Down low in the basin, where Chattahoochee-Flint freshwater makes a perfect cocktail with the Gulf of Mexico in Apalachicola Bay, one of the most productive marine estuaries in North America.

Learn more of the brothers’ behind the scenes here: Who Owns the Water

To look more into their cause: check their kickstarter project.

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  • Max

    Is it just me, or does every person who has ever hefted a paddle suddenly think they can save the world simply by filming their particular (extended) trip on their favorite river or other waterway? I like the passion, but man alive – direct it at the years of meetings, the policy development, the working directly with people, the organizing in communities, the beating on agencies for years, learning the ropes- then make your film. It will mean more.

    • Andrew Kornylak

      Hi Max, My wife is one of those people you describe. She went to law school, learned the ropes in non-profit advocacy, worked with communities, testified in high courts, and now develops environmental policy on a national level. It is true: she and other professionals in this field are the heroes whose work will slowly and surely “save the world” or at least give it a shot. To my great frustration, much of that work will be unsung.

      I am one of the filmmakers on this project. Our job is to tell the story in a compelling, accessible way; to give it life with a fresh perspective beyond the talking points, and make it sing.

      So it isn’t just you. Truth is, there’s never enough of it. I wish every person who ever hefted a paddle would suddenly realize they could save the world. I hope you will follow our story and lend your perspective!

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