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ACF Stakeholders to study issues affecting bay life
River group to look at vanishing Fla. ecology
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The Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Stakeholders group has formed a committee to address possible reasons why oysters and fish are disappearing from the Apalachicola Bay in Florida.

Stakeholders met Thursday and Friday morning to discuss that and other issues affecting the river basin of which Lake Lanier is a part.

“It’s one of the worst periods that they’ve ever had,” said Billy Turner, newly elected group chairman from Columbus, referring to the low harvest for oysters and fishermen.

There is some opinion that the bay’s ecology has been affected by the severe drought that runs from Atlanta south to the Alabama state line, he said. Lake Lanier, the largest reservoir in the basin, often has been used to ease drought conditions downstream by releasing more water, resulting in lower lake levels. However, drought may not be the only problem plaguing Apalachicola.

The organization formed the committee to determine exactly what needs to be studied in the bay.

Turner retired from Columbus Water Works in 2009 and has about 20 years experience in water planning. He has a series of objectives for the group to accomplish, including working with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the water in the basin, on draft documents for the group’s water management plan.

“That’s got a large momentum now,” said Wilton Rooks, a Lake Lanier representative in the group.

The ACF stakeholders are also focused on assessing what the river would be like without man-made influences, such as reservoirs.

“We’ll work with everybody and see if we can find one or more operating systems that can meet as many needs as possible,” Turner said.

The group has commented to the corps on its updated management document for the basin. The corps is accepting public comment until Jan. 14.

The agency first had a public comment, or “scoping,” period in 2008 as it began the process to update the manual, which was first developed in 1958 shortly after Lake Lanier was formed. It had a second scoping period after a 2009 ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson that severely limited the use of Lanier’s water as a drinking source.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled in June 2011 that water supply was an originally intended authorized use of Lake Lanier, reversing Magnuson’s decision. The U.S. Supreme Court later refused to hear an appeal from Alabama and Florida, which had contested Georgia’s claim to the water.

“What the organization, the corps and the three states are doing is evaluating the basin and trying to find the areas where we can all have something for ourselves and something for the future,” Turner said.

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