December 13, 2023
Conservation partners Apalachicola Riverkeeper, Florida Wildlife Federation and National Wildlife Federation will ask the Court to continue consideration of our legal challenge to the US Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) updated water control manual. This legal challenge was combined with a legal challenge to the water control manual made by the State of Alabama. Both cases were initially filed in 2017. A motion was filed to sever the two cases.
This week, the USACE and the State of Georgia reached a tentative agreement with the State of Alabama over flows to the Chattahoochee River. Details of the flow considerations begin on page 24 of this legal document.
Apalachicola Riverkeeper is gladdened by the news the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Georgia could reach a potential agreement with Alabama to meet some of the needs of Alabama’s Chattahoochee River. However, this agreement does not consider the flow needs of the Apalachicola River, its floodplain, and the Apalachicola Bay. Represented by Earthjustice, Apalachicola Riverkeeper, the Florida Wildlife and the National Wildlife Federation will continue to ask the court of appeals to consider our case and require the Corps to comply with federal environmental law so that the needs of the Apalachicola River an Bay, can finally be addressed. The vitality of the Apalachicola River and Bay system relies on adequate water supply.
Background on the the Conservation Partners Legal Challenge
Our legal challenge, now in federal appeals court, points out that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to properly consider environmental impacts when it developed the water management plan that guides freshwater flows through the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River system for decades to come.
Also, in developing its Water Control Manual, the Corps violated several federal environmental laws: the National Environmental Policy Act, the Water Resources Development Act, and the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act. The appeal asks the Court to order the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to re-do the water management plan and environmental impact statement to comply with federal environmental laws.
The Corps failed to conduct a sufficient environmental impact analysis when it considered a new water management regime and failed to create a plan to mitigate damaging impacts to fish and wildlife, as required by federal law. The Corps also failed to develop a plan that adequately provides for fish and wildlife conservation, which violates the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act. The Corps’ plan would further deprive the Apalachicola ecosystem of vital freshwater flows, including during the critical breeding, spawning, and flowering seasons for many species.
The legal complaint points out that the Corps’ Water Control Manual dramatically increases upstream withdrawals and severely restricts downstream releases. Under the plan, the Corps increases the frequency of “drought operations” (when the Corps holds back more water) by 600% and triples the amount of time that those restrictive operations are in place.
December 15, 2022
Earthjustice filed the opening brief on behalf of Apalachicola Riverkeeper, the Florida Wildlife Federation and the National Wildlife Federation in federal appeals court earlier this month, requesting oral arguments in the case. Amicus briefs were also filed by various groups and individual, including former Governor and Senator Bob Graham.
October 6, 2021
By Georgia Ackerman, Riverkeeper and Executive Director
Conservation partners Apalachicola Riverkeeper, Florida Wildlife Federation and National Wildlife Federation will continue the legal challenge to the US Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) updated water control manual. Earthjustice filed a notice of appeal in the legal challenge this week.
The USACE’s water control manual dictates how water is managed in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Rivers Basin. This includes the timing and flow of water held upstream of the Apalachicola River. There are 5 federal reservoirs and dams north of the Apalachicola River under USACE management. Separately, the State of Alabama also filed a notice of appeal in federal court related to their legal challenge against the USACE. It is unknown if the two cases will be combine as done previously.
The next step will be filing the appeal brief with the federal appellate court.
The USACE must fully consider their water management impacts on the Apalachicola River and Bay system and comply with federal laws.
August 12, 2021
Today, we learned that the federal court ruled in favor of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).Scroll down for final ruling (it can be appealed) and background on case. As a reminder, our case was combined with Alabama’s case against the USACE. It was assigned to federal court in Atlanta presided by Judge Thrash.
The court’s decision is extremely disappointing, especially for those who have been harmed by the Army Corps of Engineers’ mismanagement of the water of Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) rivers basin.
The Corps’ new water management plan ignores extensive testimony by scientific agencies and experts during the update process. The plan will further starve the Apalachicola ecosystem of vital freshwater flows, especially during the critical breeding, spawning and flowering seasons for many species.
Apalachicola Riverkeeper remains unwavering in our commitment to the work of protection and restoration of the Apalachicola River and Bay. Please support our advocacy work.
In April 2017, Apalachicola Riverkeeper, National Wildlife Federation, and Florida Wildlife Federation filed a lawsuit in a federal court in Washington, D.C., against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The case remains in play. The lawsuit challenges the Corps’ decisions on how to manage water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin, including withholding unprecedented levels of water upstream to provide water to the city of Atlanta and to the detriment of the ecosystems and communities that rely on that water downstream, such as the Apalachicola River and Bay. Another case by Alabama stakeholders challenging the Corps’ decisions was also filed in Washington, D.C. These cases were combined.
The state of Georgia and Georgia Water Supply Providers later joined both lawsuits to support the Army Corps’ decisions. In August 2017, Georgia and the Georgia Water Supply Providers asked to move the cases to a federal district court in Northern Georgia, which the Court did in March 2018. In July 2018, the Georgia Water Supply Providers asked the Court to dismiss part of the lawsuits. The Court issued granted those requests in May 2020.
In June 2020, the Apalachicola Riverkeeper, National Wildlife Federation, and Florida Wildlife Federation asked the Court for permission to add two new claims to their lawsuit. Both claims would challenge the Corps’ failure to release sufficient levels of water from the upstream reservoirs to support fish and wildlife conservation downstream, including in the Apalachicola River and Bay. The state of Georgia, Georgia Water Supply Providers, and the Army Corps objected to this request. The Court denied this request in November 2020.
In November 2020, the Court issued an order granting the Parties joint request for summary judgment briefing to begin in January 2021. A decision by the Court would could occur by August-September of 2021.
Motions for summary judgement were filed in January. Amicus briefs were also filed in early 2021. These are independent letters to the court written by people and groups affected by the issue. This included letters from people in the fishing industry, beekeepers, local officials and others.
The USACE and the Georgia parties filed responses to the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgement in spring 2021.
In May, Apalachicola Riverkeeper and the “Conservation Plaintiffs” reply to their arguments, and defendants, USACE, submitted a sur reply. The judge may hold oral arguments after that, but it is not required. The Court’s order contemplates that summary judgment briefing will conclude by August 2021.
Learn more about the ecological connectivity of ACF system and ecological distress signals of the Apalachicola system.