Increasing Drought Resilience of the ACF Rivers Basin

The following was shared by the National Drought Mitigation Center as summary of a recent workshop of stakeholders across the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Rivers Basin. Georgia Ackerman of Apalachicola Riverkeeper participated in the workshop. She also serves as a governing board member of the ACF Stakeholders group.  This workshop was followed by a governing board meeting of the ACF Stakeholders who continue to seek solutions to sharing the water in the ACF Basin.

We’re all in this together: Stakeholders work to increase drought resilience of the ACF Basin

On March 1st, the ACF Stakeholders Inc. sponsored a drought exercise in Eufaula, Al., to examine the drought challenges facing the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin and discuss potential strategies to prepare for and respond to a drought. Sixty stakeholders from across Alabama, Georgia and Florida gathered for the day-long workshop which was facilitated by the National Drought Mitigation Center. Working through different drought scenarios and exercises, participants got to learn more about the challenges facing the basin and how different agencies prepare for, and respond to, drought. Most importantly, though, the workshop provided an opportunity to bring together stakeholders from across the region to collaboratively work toward a more resilient future from the ACF Basin.

Chris Manganiello, the Water Policy Director at Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, and one of the event organizers described it as the first ever multi-stakeholder drought exercise in the watershed. “We pulled together many participants who have not always worked in the same room together,” he said.

“Over the last 10 years, ACF ‘water wars’ lawsuits have made it difficult to strengthen working relationships,” added Brad Moore, President of the Friends of Lake Eufaula and another workshop organizer. Manganiello and Moore are two of the leaders of ACF Stakeholders Inc., an organization comprised of municipal water managers, local governments, power producers, businesses, farmers, conservationists and more from across the river basin. In 2015, ACFS approved the basin’s first comprehensive water management plan, and they continue to work toward unifying stakeholders from across the region for the benefit of the watershed.

In recent years, drought has emerged not just as a critical issue for the basin but also a potential pathway, as Moore describes it, “to rebuild these relationships.”

Workshop participants came from across the three-state region, with representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey, as well as the University of Alabama, Auburn University, the Atlanta Regional Commission, the Georgia Water Policy Center and various stakeholder groups representing seafood, agriculture, business and water supply interests. In addition, several state agencies were involved, such as the Alabama Office of Water Resource Management, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

“It was an opportunity for stakeholders from across the ACF basin to begin meeting in-person again and learn about drought in the basin and how state agencies and the Army Corps of Engineers respond to changing conditions,” said Cody Knutson, the planning coordinator for the National Drought Mitigation Center and one of the workshop’s facilitators.

Knutson, alongside Deb Bathke, the Drought Center’s education and outreach coordinator, walked participants through an interactive scenario exercise to get them thinking about drought. In the example, drought intensified over the course of two years before beginning to recover. At critical decision points in that progression, participants were able to discuss their respective priorities, management options and strategies.

In one assignment, small breakout groups were able to design their own hypothetical newspaper front page describing the drought situation and efforts that were likely to be underway to address the situation. Front-page ‘stories’ highlighted low lake levels, water restrictions, burn bans and public meetings. Headlines made claims like “Dry on the 4th of July” and “We’re All in this Together.” Knutson says the latter was a common sentiment expressed throughout the day.

The workshop was an important first step in forging new relationships, enhancing old ones and sharing information about the threats facing the watershed and potential strategies to address drought in the future. A follow-up drought scenario exercise is planned for 2024.

“For a region known for legal conflict over water, this was a welcome next step in the direction of more collaboration,” said Manganiello.

Gordon Rogers (Flint Riverkeeper), Chris Manganiello,(Chattahoochee Riverkeeper), Georgia Ackerman (Apalachicola Riverkeeper)
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