Apalachicola Riverkeeper is working on many different fronts to protect, preserve, and restore the Apalachicola River and Apalachicola Bay. Some of the more important of our current efforts are:
Restoring Life-Sustaining Water Flow in the Apalachicola River: since its founding in 1998, Apalachicola Riverkeeper has led the fight to restore the high and seasonably-variable flows of water in the River. These flows are essential to the ecological integrity and productivity of the River, its floodplain, the coastal wetlands, the estuary, and the Bay. Flow in the largest tributary (Chattahoochee River in Georgia) is controlled via dams by the US Army Corps of Engineers, whose policies fail to give priority to the water needs of Florida. The fight to change these policies takes place in many forms – negotiation, litigation among the states and agencies, regulatory disputes regarding flow-dependent endangered species, and much political lobbying. Apalachicola Riverkeeper will continue to lead this fight, in whatever form and however long it takes to prevail. Winning this fight is the only way to Save the Last Great Bay.
Habitat & Wetlands Preservation on the River: the Corps of Engineers is seeking permits to conduct operations known as ‘Snagging’ on the Apalachicola River. This is the process of removing sunken trees and other objects from the river channel area in order to make navigation by large vessels safer, easier, and faster. Although we have no objections to safe navigation — after all, the River is our favorite place to navigate – we believe that the Corps’ plans are overly ambitious, and will result in significant destruction and degradation of habitat and wetlands. We are trying to negotiate a less intrusive, less damaging permit with the Corps.
Another Gulf Oil Spill: for nearly 9 years a set of wells owned by Taylor Energy has been pouring oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The wells were effectively destroyed by an undersea mudslide triggered by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and have been spewing forth oil ever since. Although not as large a discharge as that of the BP spill in 2010, the plume of oil on the Gulf’s surface sometimes stretches for 30 miles. Apalachicola Riverkeeper is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed with assistance of the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, demanding that Taylor Energy be forced to stop the leak.
Restoration Initiative: a far more pleasant and promising interaction with the Corps of Engineers is the possibility of working to restore riverine, palustrine, and estuarine habitat that has been damaged by nearly 50 years of river dredging and commercial navigation. Preliminary discussion is underway, and we have very high hopes that significant funding will be available with which to do substantial & meaningful restoration.
Community Restoration: the productivity of Apalachicola Bay fisheries crashed in 2012, largely as a consequence of insufficient freshwater flow in the Apalachicola River. We were an important community catalyst in the creation of the Seafood Management Assistance Resource and Recovery Team, a diverse group of stakeholders that seeks to reach consensus on the needs of the community and the Bay. Another aspect of the community response is the federal RESTORE Act, which provides funding for the restoration of ecological function and economic health of communities that were affected by the Gulf oil spill of 2010. Riverkeeper Dan Tonsmeire serves on Franklin County’s advisory committee for RESTORE Act funding.
Water Withdrawal Request: Sturgeon AquaFarms is a grower of Beluga sturgeon and a producer of caviar. They have recently asked state permission to withdraw up to 7.2 million gallons of water from the Floridan aquifer, from which emanates the flow of the Chipola River, a tributary of the Apalachicola River. We are greatly concerned with the impact of a withdrawal of this magnitude upon the flow in these Rivers, especially in times of drought. We will continue to monitor and officially comment upon the permit process, and will respond appropriately as more information becomes available.
Environmental Cleanup: We organized & coordinate the annual Franklin County Coastal Cleanups, where hundreds of volunteers have picked up thousands of tons of trash from the coast lines of Franklin County, Florida.
During our nearly 15 years of existence we have worked to protect, preserve, and restore the Apalachicola River and Apalachicola Bay. Here’s a sampling:
BP Oil Spill Response: Apalachicola Riverkeeper was lead in Franklin County for the citizen volunteer effort to protect the Apalachicola Bay ecosystem from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. We led an effort to monitor and document the impacts to critical oyster, sea grass, salt marsh, and mangrove habitats and provided the community an information sharing and reporting forum.
Habitat & Wetlands Preservation & Restoration:
- Sea Grass: We partnered with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to mark and monitor 900 acres of near-shore sea grass beds stretching along Apalachicola Bay at the Lanark Reef, to protect this important habitat from damage by boat propellers.
- Persuaded the state of Florida not to clear 1,000 feet of river shoreline or dredge 30,000 cubic yards of river bottom when constructing its loading zone for its disposal site restoration project.
- Dredging: Established and led the Apalachicola River Restoration Coalition, to persuade the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to deny Water Quality Certification for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ dredging project on the Apalachicola River. This successful effort ended almost 50 years of habitat destruction over the entire length of the River.
- Apalachicola Bay Shoreline Restoration Project — saving 300 feet of shoreline at Indian Creek Park in Eastpoint, Florida removing fill, restoring the shoreline to natural grade, and creating natural shoreline habitats of marsh grass, oyster reef, and upland grasses, shrubs and trees. More than 80 Franklin County students are helping on this project
- Persuaded local government leaders to rescind and repeal four large scale land use amendments that would have allowed a major corporation to increase densities on 3,500 acres in Franklin County from one unit per forty acres, to four units per acre.
- Persuaded the St. Joe Company to drop a proposed marina from its plans for the SummerCamp development located near the Alligator Aquatic Preserve.
- Started a successful turtle protection program that grew into a stand-alone organization called Sea Turtles At Risk (STAR).
- Coordinated community monitoring of migratory shorebirds, and identified the Apalachicola Bay’s Lanark Reef as one of the most important stopover habitats in Florida. The results of this work were published in the Florida Field Naturalist.
- Apalachicola Riverkeeper’s response to the military’s interest in conducting training exercises in Tate’s Hell State Forest. Read the Riverkeeper’s comments here and go to http://grasieis.leidoseemg.com/ to learn more about the military’s interest in conducting training exercises in Tate’s Hell.
- Gulf Power and Conservation Groups Agree on Plan to Contain Coal Ash Pollution along Apalachicola River (read more)
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Releases Draft of Environmental Impact Statement for Public Review & Comment (read more)
- Brought the award winning exhibit Apalachicola River: An American Treasure to the cities of Marianna and Apalachicola in Florida, and to the RiverQuarium in Albany, Georgia.
- Created & taught a 6-week course on the Apalachicola River and Bay in the Gulf-Franklin Community College entitled “Where the River Ends”.
- Community Steward Award from 1000 Friends of Florida for sustained grassroots advocacy in 2005.
- “Water Conservation Organization of the Year” from Florida Wildlife Federation in 2004.
- Conservation Award from Apalachee Audubon in 2003 – “This new group has made a big splash with their aggressive advocacy for their namesake. If there is a harder working group in Florida, we would be surprised. The Apalachicola Riverkeeper leaders have been unabashed abut twisting arms and bending ears among politicians and even fellow environmentalists to make their agenda the region’s agenda.”
- Cited for “Outstanding Achievements and Excellence in Coastal Conservation to Create A More Sustainable Future for Florida” by the Council for Sustainable Florida in 2002.
Official Designations of the Apalachicola River and/or Apalachicola Bay
- Outstanding Florida Water,
- Florida Aquatic Preserve,
- National Estuarine Research Reserve
- UNESCO Man in the Biosphere Reserve.