There’s More at Stake Than Oysters in the Apalachicola River Wars

Somewhere down there is a well-armed catfish.

For the time being, the St. Johns and Withlacoochee are the only two Florida rivers that flow north. But if Georgia keeps sucking up more of its headwaters each year, the Apalachicola might just become the third.
The good news is that the State of Florida has stepped up its efforts to keep that from happening. The bad news is our track record up to this point is pretty dismal.

In case you missed it, Gov. Rick Scott has filed another lawsuit in hopes that the US Supreme Court will finally make Georgia quit hogging all our water up in Lake Lanier and other impoundments. Florida’s case is based on the damage that reduced flows of fresh water from upstream have caused to Apalachicola Bay and its seafood industry, particularly the oyster harvest.

Georgia is expected to respond in much the same way it has in the past – by explaining that Atlanta needs more water for homes and businesses and schools and for all the new Braves fans who showed up after the ’95 World Series. “People are more important than oysters,” they’ll say (while making a loud raspberry noise). “Suck mud, bivalves.”

Negotiations with Georgia have ended the same way for decades.

Negotiations with Georgia have ended the same way for decades.

I’m one of the lucky folks who grew up hunting, fishing, camping, skiing and playing on the Apalachicola, so I stand figuratively and literally on Florida’s side in this case. That said, I wish Gov. Scott and the DEP would remind his Peach State counterpart that there’s another 100 miles of river north of the bay that’s in jeopardy as well.

Don’t get me wrong, I love oysters and I have all the respect in the world for the people who harvest them. If there’s a harder way to make a living than lifting those tongs all day, I haven’t heard about it yet. But it would help Florida’s case for our leaders to point out that the estuary is just one part of this amazing system, the entire length of which deserves protection.

For example, the Apalachicola feeds tupelo trees that feed the bees that produce world-famous honey.

Hand-painted or “pied” bream, found nowhere else in the world, live in its channels and tributaries.

Along the river, you’ll also find rare plant life, like the Torreya tree, which some believe was the type Noah used to build the Ark.

And if you put any faith Animal Planet and/or do hallucinogenic drugs, you might be convinced we have a Bigfoot or two roaming around.

Listen, I’m not saying that the bay alone isn’t reason enough to fight for Florida’s fair share of water from Georgia. The coastal communities and the estuary have suffered terribly over the past several years. To lose this resource in the name of development would be a tragedy beyond measure.

I just believe Gov. Scott and his team should let the world know that the Apalachicola system is home to many other unique natural treasures that are threatened by Georgia’s policies as well. He’ll find that the people who love and appreciate the gifts of the river are valuable allies in the fight to defend them.

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