“With a barbecue sandwich in one hand, my paddle in the other, and a High Life between my feet, I slide, for the first time, into the slick brown current of the Flint…”
See the full story here: “The Water Wars,” Canoe & Kayak, December 2013
The December issue of National Geographic has a great article about cougars (aka mountain lions, pumas, catamounts, mountain cats, panther) and their resurgence around the US. The biggest, baddest cats in North America need from 50 to 300 square miles of habitat to roam and prey. That explains why the vast majority of cougars thrive in the open spaces of the western US. The Nat Geo article included a map of the US (see here) with dots for confirmed cougar sightings outside their typical, western range since 1990. The midwest from the Dakotas to Louisiana looked like a mild case of measles with red spots everywhere. The Southeast, on the other hand, had one red dot between the Mississippi River and the swamps of Florida. That cougar was living on the Chattahoochee, somewhere in the corridor between Columbus and Eufaula.
I can imagine a mountain cat finding enough wild to survive along the edge of the Hooch. If she’s still there, she probably watched, hidden among the brown trunks and tan vines and pale green leaves, as Michael floated by.
“The thunderstorms we’d watched on television the night before catch me just before dusk as I near the GA Road 137 overpass, the only solid structure for 12 river miles. I reach the bridge just as the rain turns sideways and lightning breaks the gray twilight. From my tent on a dry patch beside a graffitied, trash-strewn bridge rampart, I pour a whiskey and call Michael. He too is in the thick of the storm, hunkered under a campground shelter 50 miles west, near Columbus. I can hear the tornado sirens through the phone.”
David Hanson penned a feature for Canoe & Kayak on our documentary, on newsstands now.
We also cut a video short for the magazine here:
There is no one way to use and share water in the United States. In the West, the rule goes first-in-time, first-in-rights. The landowner with the oldest claim to the land has the first right to use the water. Naturally, the water-grab approach leads to problems in complex watersheds that involve cities, ranchers, farmers, Native Americans, and vulnerable aquatic species. Plus, water doesn’t care about political boundaries like state or national borders, further complicating things.
Eastern states take a slightly more commons approach. Landowners have a right to “reasonable use” of the water flowing through their property. The law protects for downstream users to receive their fair share of water, assuming someone can cut some dimension to a regulatory term as mushy as “reasonable.” This is the question the Corps of Engineers in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River basin must answer as they reassess their flow requirements and minimums for the highly engineered (four federal dams) Chattahoochee River. Otherwise, lower Flint River agriculture and the entire Apalachicola Bay could succumb to an unreasonable death.
Bill Rankin wrote a fascinating piece about the origins of Lake Lanier and of the Water Wars in a 2009 piece for the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
Lanier Landing. Photo by Andrew Kornylak
As David researches a story for Canoe & Kayak Magazine, we’ll be entering the next phase of this project, releasing the official trailer and raising funds for the final edit. Stay tuned!
After reaching the Gulf of Mexico on the Apalachicola River, David Hanson writes for Canoe & Kayak:
“Tourists walking Water Street can peer inside the open screen doors and see the crates moving and hear their dinner being cleaned and shuffled along the conveyor belts. Tourists love it here, and it’s not for the beaches. The tourists want to see the “authentic” mix of raw, old-world industry and its obvious, direct relationship with the natural world. That’s such a rare thing these days…
I call Tommy and ask if he has any oystertongers going out. 13 Mile’s dock used to have a line of oyster boats—handmade wooden skiffs with tiny cockpits built around the stern for driving—each afternoon. Men and a few women would motor up to the old dock and haul 12-15 sixty-pound burlap sacks off the bows of their boats. They’d be weighed and tagged, and the tongers would be paid. The oysters would immediately be cleaned, then shucked or packaged for shipping. Now 13 Mile is nearly empty. Tommy only has one tonger going out.”
Read David’s full piece for Canoe & Kayak Magazine:
It isn’t the first time there’s been a downturn in a resource-based economy around here. One visitor from Athens, an older gentleman who ate breakfast next to us, put it brusquely:
It’s a rough-cut, swoop-into-town perspective. And highly offensive if I were a local sitting at a nearby table and being called, in a general sense, a short-sighted, greedy simpleton by this grumpy old man who drove down to be a tourist in the town renowned for being “Florida’s last working waterfront.”
The true part is that Apalachicola Bay is suffering. Bad. Tommy Ward, second generation of the decades-old Buddy Ward & Sons seafood company, has only a handful of oystermen working for him these days. Boats used to come back with fifteen sixty-pound burlap sacks of oysters each day. Now the few that are out come back with four or five.
Many of the oystermen and women live on the economic edge, depending on the daily harvest check (paid at the water’s edge by the various shucking houses and retail operators from Eastpoint to Apalachicola). They can’t necessarily wait another year for the settling spat to become harvest-sized oysters.
So, yes, some over-harvesting is taking place. Some guys are bringing in oysters that are too small. But the seafood guys are banding together. They’re condemning the poacher’s get-it-while-you-can approach. They’ve always been competitors but now the competition is shared – they’re teamed up against whatever forces are shutting down their bay.
The why? for the downturn is a question that could start a fight in a bar. The BP oil spill lurks around the Gulf like a ghost, its toxic residue now invisible. Most fingers point upstream. The Flint and Chattahoochee rivers are flowing at full brim this month. Reservoirs have filled up. Groundwater’s being recharged. But last year, the Apalachicola ran at its lowest allowable flow (5000cfs) for months. With no freshwater, the young oysters couldn’t grow. It’s not rocket science.
So for now oystermen work odd jobs or they’ve joined Workforce, a subsidy program to pay oystermen to regenerate spawning grounds by dispersing old oyster shells into the bay – the young spat that could thrive with the recent freshwater influx will need the hard surface to attach to if they are going to grow and become a healthy oyster yield for 2014.
Tomorrow Michael and I will go into the bay with Kendall, one of Tommy Ward’s last oystermen. We’ll meet him at “11 mile” (measured in distance from Apalach down Hwy 98 West) at 6am. Kendall’s prompt, and he likes to be on the water before first light. - From David Hanson in Apalachicola Bay, FL