Flint River focus of legislative review

mlee@macon.comFebruary 28, 2013 

ATLANTA -- The Georgia Legislature is editing a law that aims to keep the lower Flint River from running dry, and it’s being lobbied to extend state protections upstream, from Macon County to Atlanta.

The water flow in the upper Flint is too low for canoeing more days during the year, said Ben Emanuel of American Rivers, a nationwide group that studies, restores and helps manage rivers. The lack of water is keeping paddlers from area outfitters and Upson County’s Boy Scout Camp Thunder from launching their kayaks and canoes.

So while the state Senate Natural Resources and the Environment Committee is editing the Flint River Drought Protection Act, Emanuel said he would like to see it apply to the whole river, from Fulton County to Florida.

A healthier Flint from Atlanta to the sea also would bolster the uniquely southern shoal bass, a game fish so outstanding that it is a reason for a comprehensive look at the Flint both above and below the midstate shoals, said Todd Holbrook, president of the Georgia Wildlife Federation.

Enacted in 2000, the Flint River Drought Protection Act offers to pay lower Flint farmers in times of extreme drought to forgo using their permitted irrigation withdrawals from the river.

But it’s been a hollow offer for most of its life: The Legislature has not set aside any money for it.

Last year’s serious drought and impotent act led to this year’s proposed edits.

Changes include mandating water use efficiency of up to 80 percent on some farms, depending on the age and type of irrigation equipment. It also sets up studies on the river’s flow.

Gordon Rogers, the Albany-based Flint Riverkeeper, lamented a river with a falling flow from beginning to end, barely fed by some tributaries that are now so low that “you can’t have a swim or a fish or a baptism” in them. He asked the committee to amend the bill to take a hard look at municipal and industrial water use on the upper Flint.

Major agricultural water withdrawal starts roughly in Macon County and gets much heavier as the Flint winds south toward Florida. The act does not cover upriver of that, where cities and companies are the dominant water users.

Agriculture is “not responsible in any way for what’s going on in the upper Flint,” Rogers said.

And he blasted another provision, one that allows state investment in “stream augmentation.” That is, pumping water out of a well into a river. There’s already such a federal- and locally-funded setup at Spring Creek, which begins in Clay County. There, the augmentation shelters a rare species of mussel that’s protected by the threat of a lawsuit under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“The problem in the Flint is because of the way permitting has been handled in the past,” Rogers said. “Augmentation does not resolve the real problems” and is just an expensive Band-Aid.

“It’s not saying we’re going to do it. It says we have the potential to do it,” said state Sen. Ross Tolleson, R-Perry, committee chairman and Senate Bill 213’s sponsor. “It sets up a policy framework.”

He also said the entire Flint is in his committee’s focus: “We’re going to keep moving forward.”

Although that probably won’t happen this year on the upper Flint. A slightly hesitant committee passed the bill without any amendments via a unanimous voice vote. Now it goes to the House Rules Committee. To have a straightforward chance of passing, the Rules Committee needs to refer the measure to a full floor vote by the time the Legislature is three-quarters finished with its annual session, probably on March 7.

To contact writer Maggie Lee, e-mail her at mlee@macon.com.

The Telegraph is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service