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Introduction W ATER DEMANDS AND SUPPLIES IN THE ACF-ACT RIVER BASINS Large areas of Alabama, the Florida panhandle region, and western Georgia lie in the watershed of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) and Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) river systems. These river systems provide an array of water-related benefits and services to the region’s residents, municipalities, farms, other economic sectors and ecosystems. Each of these river basins has experienced extensive water resource development in the form of multiple purpose reservoirs constructed by the Corps of Engineers and by non-federal entities. There literally are hundreds of dams across these river systems. The largest of these are 10 Corps of Engineers dams and 21 non-federal dams (Figure 1). These river basins drain the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains then flow through a piedmont region of low hills and across a coastal plain of low relief. The significance of this physical context is that the upper reaches of the basins, where private hydropower dams are common, are very different from the lower reaches, where species of concern are largely located. These river systems became the sites of heightened disputes over shared water resources during the 1980s. At that time, the region was experiencing drought conditions and steady population growth with increasing water demands. The population of Metro Atlanta, for instance, grew from roughly less than one-half million in 1950 to over five million in 2007. The city of Atlanta and significant portions of the surrounding metropolitan area derive much of their drinking water supply from direct withdrawals and releases from Lake Lanier, which is impounded by Buford Dam on the Chattahoochee River in north-central Georgia. Tensions among increasing urban water demands and other water use sectors have continued. Those tensions tend to be magnified during conditions of drought and water shortages, such as during 2006-08, and reduced during periods of greater rainfall, such as during the spring of 2009. Driven by increasing demands and erratic or decreased water supplies, the basin states of Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, and the Corps of Engineers have been involved in considerable litigation since the 1980s. A prominent example of an effort to find reconciliation among these parties began with a series of negotiations that led the three states to enter a congressionally authorized compact in 1997, in which they agreed to work toward a water allocation agreement 1 PREPUBLICA TION
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2 Summary of a Workshop on Water Issues in the ACT-ACT River Basins FIGURE 1. Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) and Alabama-Coosa-T allapoosa (ACT) river systems. SOURCE: USGS (2004). ga.water.usgs.gov/publications/abstracts/acfactlist.html. for the ACF river systems. In 2003 these negotiations ended without the states agreeing to an allocation scheme. The three states and the Corps continue to be involved in litigation over sharing the waters within the ACF basin, with some focus on the Corps’ operation of its four Chattahoochee River dams. CORPS OF ENGINEERS W ATER CONTROL MANUALS W ater management operations for the federal dams and reservoirs in these river systems are described in Corps of Engineers water control manuals specific to each reservoir and included within master water control manuals for the ACF and ACT river basins. These manuals outline the regulation schedules for each project and specifications for storage and releases from each reservoir. They also outline policies and data protocols for flood control operations and drought contingency operations. In writing these manuals, the Corps of Engineers considers PREPUBLICA TION
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Introduction 3 authorized project purposes, power contract commitments, hydrologic and climatic factors, downstream lake and basin-wide conditions, potential threats of flood and drought, and lake levels. In addition to balancing these many, sometimes competing, variables, the Corps of Engineers also must consider changes in water demand patterns, economic factors, and social preferences. Drought conditions in 2006 resulted in the Corps initiating formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in order to determine flow regimes that are beneficial to federally endangered species in the lower reaches of the Apalachicola River. As part of the consultation, the Corps proposed and implemented a set of operation rules—the Interim Operation Plan (IOP)—for the federal reservoirs in the ACF basin. A drawdown of Lake Lanier was required to support these flows, and many Georgia water users and officials questioned the justification for the minimum flow requirements. The year 2007 saw drought conditions across the basin continue, the IOP was modified to include Emergency Drought Operations (EDO) as the Apalachicola River experienced record low flows and further threats to endangered aquatic species. Systems operations are complicated further by minimum flow requirements in other areas, such as reaches downstream from Buford Dam and similar constraints downstream from Morgan Falls Dam in Atlanta. In 2007, the Secretary of the Army directed an update of the ACT master water control 2 manual, and in 2008 the Secretary directed an update of the ACF master water control manual. The existing ACT and ACF water control manuals were completed in 1951 and 1958, respectively. These basins have seen numerous physical changes since then, not the least of which is the addition of several dams and reservoirs. The legal context for national water resources decisions has also changed greatly with passage of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act. The scientific setting of water resources decisions also has changed. For instance, there is a better understanding and wider appreciation of the impacts of dam and reservoir operations on downstream ecology, and water managers today may try to implement concepts such as the natural flood pulse to help restore ecosystems or protect species of special concern. The social setting, too, has changed; the role of stakeholders, for instance, is today far more prominent in decision making than in the 1950s when the current manuals were written. NATIONAL ACADEMIES WORKSHOP In 2008, the Corps of Engineers South Atlantic Division contacted the National Academies’ Water Science and Technology Board (WSTB) to discuss the possible involvement of the Academies’ in providing independent, expert advice to the Corps and others regarding river system operations, aquatic ecology, and related issues. Brigadier General Joseph Schroedel, 2 A draft updated ACF Master Water Control Manual that incorporated the overall system management was proposed in 1989 as part of the Lake Lanier post-authorization change report. This master manual described current system operations at that time but was not finalized due to litigation filed by the State of Alabama objecting to current and proposed changes to operations in the basin. The Corps has been operating the ACF projects under the draft 1989 Master Water Control Manual on an interim basis pending update of the Master Manual and individual project Water Control Manuals. 3 PREPUBLICA TION
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4 Summary of a Workshop on Water Issues in the ACT-ACT River Basins then-Corps Division Commander, spoke with WSTB members and staff at their October 2008 board meeting. It was agreed that the Corps would sponsor a one-day workshop in which key ACF-ACT water management issues were discussed, and in which a handful of topics that might serve as the basis for future studies would be identified (the statement of task for this activity is included as Appendix A). The workshop was convened at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. on 3 April 3, 2009. The workshop included presentations from National Research Council (NRC) staff; the Corps of Engineers; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; the states of Alabama, Florida, and Georgia; and several invited experts. An open comment session and open discussion session also were held. The event was moderated and overseen by a small steering committee of Water Science and Technology Board members that worked with WSTB staff (a meeting agenda is included as Appendix B; workshop participants are listed in Appendix C). Meeting participants represented many different organizations, sectors, and perspectives, and the sessions held through the day featured many lively exchanges and an abundance of thoughtful questions and comments. Historical and ongoing conflicts and lawsuits over ACF- ACT system operations are undeniable and a prominent part of any discussions of these issues. The workshop invitees, however, participated in the meeting with positive spirits, candor, and enthusiasm. The discussions were conducted at a professional level and the invitees identified and explained numerous important issues regarding scientific concepts and data, legal and institutional issues, and modes of decision making, all of which affect ACF-ACT water management. The following sections summarize the main topics discussed by participants at the workshop, and possible topics for future studies that were raised at the meeting by members of the steering committee and other participants. This report does not identify any possible findings or recommendations that may have emerged during the workshop nor does it offer its own findings and recommendations. At this time, the National Academies has not been requested to conduct any further studies in the ACF-ACT region, although some pending federal legislation calls for the National Academies to carry out a study to provide advice on water management in the basin (see Appendix D). 3 The National Research Council (NRC) is the working arm of the National Academies. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is an honorific body and is part of the National Academies. The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and Institute of Medicine (IOM) also are honorific bodies within the National Academies complex. For more information see: www.nationalacademies.org/ . PREPUBLICA TION