Top: Mark Masters of ACF Stakeholders and Albany State University explains to the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County mission and methods of the stakeholder organization. (Photos by David Shivers)
Bottom: From left, Kiwanian Jerry Wessel, Albany Herald reporter Terry Lewis, and Mark Masters discuss regional water basin issues.
There has been much media attention focused on the “water wars” and litigation between Georgia, Florida, and Alabama over usage shares from the Appalachicola, Chattahoochee, and Flint rivers water basins. Less well known, perhaps, is work being done quietly behind the scenes to determine the best, most equitable application of this natural resource among a diverse array of users.
Mark Masters, director of the Georgia Water Planning and Policy Center at Albany State University, is also a member of ACF Stakeholders (ACFS), a grassroots, privately-funded organization comprised of the many and various facets of the rivers’ use and research. He shared with the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County on September 8 what ACFS is and what they are doing to help resolve the water conflicts.
ACFS’s overall goal, according to Masters, is to answer positively the question, “Can the diverse users of the ACF Basin act cooperatively to create sustainable solutions among stakeholders that balance economic, ecological, and social values in the sharing of this natural resource?” The mission is to achieve equitable solutions among the stakeholders that balance economic, ecological, and social values and to offer viable solutions that ensure that the ACF Basin is a sustainable resource for current and future generations.
ACFS was established in late 2009, said Masters. It began by identifying 14 water user groups and dividing them into four sub-basins (Upper Chattahoochee, Lower/Middle Chattahoochee, Flint, and Appalachicola) and creating a board with 56 member representing the gamut from agricultural to industrial, municipalities and recreation and policy makers, “pretty much anybody who has anything to with water in the ACF Basin.”
“That group gets together quarterly to try to help slog through some of these tough issues that have facing our basin for a long time,” said Masters. “And consensus rules the day. Any one of those 56 people can pull the cord on the train and stop everything. We don’t move forward until everybody can live with it.”
He acknowledged that with such a large and diverse board, arriving at a consensus “can be pretty challenging. We want to enhance communication and I think we have actually met that goal.”
Masters recalled a stakeholder meeting in Appalachicola, Fla., where he observed an Atlanta water official sitting next to a Florida oysterman.
“Those two people would never have talked to each other without ACFS,” said Masters, adding that it was evidence of enhancing communication that “went an awful long way toward building trust among the real users.”
Another way of building trust that was “extremely important” was inviting input on what various users want and think they can live with. “We’ve take our watershed and broken it up into 17 what we call nodes, and a node is just a place on the river where there’s a gauge. There (are) 17 nodes…and 14 environmental interests. There are 238 blocks in our matrix, and so we said, ‘Here’s what I need at my spot on the water.’ That was extremely important to building our trust, because that’s something we’d never been able to get done before. Having the membership say ‘Here’s what I can live with’ was very, very important.”
The ACFS is in process of creating a Sustainable Water Management Plan it hopes will be finished by the end of this year. An upcoming meeting will involve examination of “thousands of documents” including scientific research and modeling to look at the watershed and how Appalachicola Bay is ultimately impacted. Master described the process as “extremely difficult, extremely complex.” Also among the technical materials is a close examination of what Masters termed the “absolute impact” of the Floridan Aquifer on surface water.
Also among “the reams and reams of technical data,” said Masters, are key projections forecasting water demands out to the year 2050.
“When we have that (SWMP) in our hands, we’re going to look to the three governors (of Alabama, Florida, and Georgia) and the Army Corps of Engineers and say, ‘Hey, this is what we think a good path would be to go to maintain the watershed,” he said.
As far as ongoing litigation between the states, Masters said, “I can’t speak to where the states are. With the litigation the ACF Stakeholders are under some restrictions here, so I’m not going to get very specific. I will say this about the Corps of Engineers: The Corps has been extremely supportive of ACFS. We’ve with their commanders. The timing, we feel, is pretty good with the Corps. They’re in the process of updating what’s called The Water Control Manual for the ACF and we’re trying to be sure we complete our process.”
“We are under no illusion that this is an easy fix,” Masters concluded, but, “We feel really, really good that we’ve advanced the ball, at least in terms of knowledge of the basin.”