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Tour gives teachers fresh outlook on rivers

Traveling workshop focused on how resource is used different ways

POSTED: August 1, 2014 12:30 a.m.
/For The Times

Brian and Tiffany Johnston took part in a rafting trip down the Chattahoochee River with a group of teachers during the Creeks to Coast Workshop, in which they toured the river from North Georgia to the Gulf Coast to learn about water resource education, largely in the context of the "water wars."

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Myers Elementary teacher Tiffany Johnston has a new perspective on the decadeslong water-sharing conflict between Georgia, Florida and Alabama, often referred to as “water wars.”

She and two other Hall County teachers — her husband, Brian Johnston of Friendship Elementary and Kathy Mellette of Earhart-Edison Exploration Academy at North Hall Middle School — participated in the Georgia Aquarium-led Creeks to Coast Educators Workshop.

The workshop took them along the Chattahoochee and Apalachicola portions of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River system, showing them how water from the river is used.

“Along the way we made many stops, learning how there are places that depend on it for electricity, that depend on it for fishing and other things, and that it’s critical to the environment as well,” Tiffany Johnston said.

The local teachers joined a group of educators from around the state, visiting locations where the river’s water is used for drinking, recreation, electricity, fishing, industry and tourism. They began at Horse Trough Falls in White County, following the river all the way to Florida’s Apalachicola Bay.

Tiffany Johnston said seeing all the river’s uses firsthand and talking to people who depend on it was an “eye-opening” experience.

“I had a very passionate stance on it at the beginning of the trip, living at Lake Lanier and seeing the drought, the lake looking like it might go away,” she said. “I felt like Florida and Alabama were making unreasonable claims. But what you see in the news is not necessarily the whole story. ... In the end it’s a resource that everybody needs to share.”

The legal dispute between the three states dates to 1990 and concerns the flow of water from Lake Lanier into the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River system.

Most recently, Florida filed a suit against Georgia that is ongoing in the U.S. Supreme Court — the legal setting for interstate suits — claiming Georgia has “overconsumed” water in the system, leaving flows to trickle into Apalachicola Bay, home of Florida’s struggling oyster industry.

Teachers in the workshop visited the Apalachicola Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, where they heard from oyster fishermen and ecologists.

Tiffany Johnston said visiting one of the areas at the center of the dispute allowed her to see the dispute from an additional point of view.

“We talked to the fishermen in Apalachicola Bay and they are depending on the water to come in for their oyster beds, but it’s also a problem of overfishing,” she said. “(The states have) two very different outlooks on the water, on what is necessary for the people that live there and the needs of their communities,” she said.

Mellette said the visit reminded her that nature is not bound by state lines.

“You saw the issues facing it. You saw how far we’ve come,” she said. “Everything is so related.”

During the workshop, which was co-sponsored by Georgia Power and Georgia Pacific, teachers also visited Georgia Power’s Bartletts Ferry Hydroelectric Dam at Lake Harding, north of Columbus and adjacent to the Georgia-Alabama state line.

“It was a rush to go and see the ginormous turbines with all the water flowing through,” Mellette said.

Educators also learned to test for pollution in water by measuring microorganisms — a method Tiffany Johnston says she plans to use with her fourth- and fifth-grade students — learned to conduct a fish population activity at the Buford Fish Hatchery, toured a wastewater treatment plant, and visited the Columbus Riverwalk to learn how the river has been altered to attract tourists and contribute to urban revitalization, and conducted a number of other activities.

Kim Morris-Zarneke, who led the workshop for Georgia Aquarium, said the goal of the workshop was to give teachers experience with water resource issues they can take with them to the classroom.

“Actually getting into the watershed and walking around helps you remember and understand,” she said.

Tiffany Johnston said the workshop gave her valuable teaching tools as well as a deeper understanding of the role water resources play in our lives.

“I really feel that everyone who lives along the Chattahoochee needs to do some research on how it affects their neighbors up and downstream” Johnston said. “We’ve all got to figure out a way we can share this natural resource.”

“The overarching concept is we all have different values for water,” Zarnecke said. “We all depend on the Chattahoochee to supply us with water to survive, and we as a group need to figure out how we can protect that resource.”


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