From its point of origin near Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport the Flint River flows southward, bringing with it numerous opportunities for municipal consumption, agricultural use, recreation, and wildlife habitat. Hand in hand with those opportunities come the challenges of preserving the river and its basin for the fair use of consumers in both the more densely-populated areas and the smaller, more rural communities the river traverses.
“Flint Riverkeeper is the flagship organization for involvement in water issues,” according to Gordon Rogers, Riverkeeper’s executive director, speaking to the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County on May 16, adding that “everybody comes at water through one lens or another. “ For instance, “Electricity consumes approximately three-fourths of your water footprint.”
Flint Riverkeeper has six primary areas of focus in fulfilling its mission: water quality and law enforcement; water quantity and flow patterns; land strategies; wildlife issues (endemics, invasives); mercury contamination (coal-fired facilities); and finally, public outreach, issue information, and public advocacy.
According to Rogers, more than 860,000 people live in the Flint River basin, two-thirds of them in just five of the counties it flows through. The combined Flint and Chattahoochee basins combine to form the Appalachicola basin, which connects southwest Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico. The basins act as collection points from which water flows into underground aquifers.
Issues facing the Flint River include housing density and minimum flows, which Rogers said have decreased 70 percent since 1970. Flow impairment results from a number of factors, including climate change, reservoirs, withdrawals (for consumptive use and interbasin transfers), increased impervious surfaces such as roadways and paved parking lots, and agricultural usage, which is legitimate, said Rogers, but “how much is too much?” The state of Georgia currently uses approximately 2.3 billion gallons of water a day during the growing season, he said. In the 21-county southwest Georgia region there are currently 8,000 permits for agricultural withdrawals.
“Atlanta likes to brag it’s the economic engine of Georgia,” said Rogers. “It’s not. Agriculture and forestry are the economic engines of Georgia.”
Coal-fired electricity plants are also a major issue facing the river. There are existing advisories on consumption of fish from the Flint due to mercury contamination. Also, coal-fired plants are extremely consumptive of water on a daily basis, Rogers explained.
One way citizens can get involved in water issues is by paying attention to regulatory or legislative affairs at the state level.
“When you pick up the phone or send an e-mail, you can make a difference in Atlanta,” Rogers emphasized.
Gordon Rogers of Flint Riverkeeper explains to Dougherty County Kiwanians the challenges facing the Flint River water basin.