Man’s impact on Earth, Chattahoochee River waterways detailed in new report

By David Pendered

For climate enthusiasts, a new federal report has it all – from discussion of climate change to rising sea levels, from job creation to the fate of a fish described as a living dinosaur.

gulf sturgeon

The Gulf sturgeon is a prehistoric fish that’s listed as a threatened species. Its fate is expected to be slightly adversely effected by a proposed water management plan for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin. Credit: gcrl.usm.edu

The short take-away from the report is that it doesn’t seek to curb metro Atlanta’s water consumption from Lake Lanier.

This document is not part of the tri-state water litigation now being considered by a special master appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The bench trial concluded Dec. 1 after more than 82 hours of testimony, according to the docket sheet.

This document is the first update in some 50 years of the manual the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers uses to manage water usage and drought response in the Appalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin. The basin extends from the headwaters of the Chattahoochee to Apalachicola Bay, Florida.

As such, the manual is a fairly dry read.

It’s heavy on the kind of technical language that would be expected to emerge from eight years of research on development, jobs and water usage in the basin. Just the list of abbreviations is six pages.

The new plan to manage water usage and drought response from North Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico is expected to be in place in early 2017. Credit: sam.usace.army

The new plan to manage water usage and drought response from North Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico is expected to be in place in early 2017. Credit: sam.usace.army

But nestled within the document are a number of fairly dramatic statements that speak to the extent man’s impact on the Earth and, in particular, this region.

The report affirms that global warming is occurring and observed of the rate of warming:

  • “From the preindustrial era (ending about 1750) to 2004, concentrations of [carbon dioxide] increased globally by about 35 percent. Since 1900, the Earth’s average surface air temperature has increased by about 1.2-1.4 [degrees Fahrenheit]. The warmest global average temperatures on record have all observed within the past 10 yr. The warmest year was 2005.”

Fossil fuel combustion accounts for the vast majority of the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The report labels carbon dioxide as a direct greenhouse gas:

  • “Within the United States, fossil fuel combustion accounted for 94 percent of all [carbon dioxide] emissions in 2005. On a global scale, fossil fuel combustion added approximately 30×10^9 tons of [carbon dioxide] to the atmosphere in 2004, of which the U.S. accounted for about 22 percent.”

While sea levels have always fluctuated, the sea level is rising, according to the report.

Since 1963, the global sea level has risen at a rate of 0.07 inches per year. Near Apalachicola Bay, a monitoring station that’s been in place for more than 40 years shows an increase of about 0.05 inches per year between 1970 and 2010.

acf income statistics

More than 90 percent of all jobs in the river basin are in the private sector. Per capita income is the highest in metro Atlanta. Credit: sam.usace.army

More than 90 percent of jobs in the river basin are in the private sector. In 2012, 3.5 million persons were in the work force. Most of the jobs are in Georgia. Georgia had 89 percent of the jobs. Alabama had 6 percent and Florida had 4 percent of the jobs.

Incomes vary widely. Per capita income ranged from a low of about $14,000 per year in the poorest counties to a high of about $36,000 a year in metro Atlanta, according to the report.

Fish and wildlife will face varying degrees of adverse changes if the plan is implemented, according to the report. The Gulf sturgeon would face “slightly adverse changes.”

The Gulf sturgeon is 200-million-year-old fish species, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It’s habitat was disrupted by the construction of dams. The Gulf sturgeon now listed as an endangered species. Here’s how the FWS describes the fish:

  • “This prehistoric fish reaches lengths of up to 9 feet [and] can weigh up to 300 pounds. It is well armored with rows of heavy plates that make it look menacing, but it is actually not an aggressive species, preferring to linger near the bottom of riverbeds and oceans. With a tail like a shark, whiskers like a catfish, and a tube-like mouth that projects from the bottom of its head … the sturgeon has been called both ugly and yet beautiful.

“The Gulf sturgeon lives in the northern Gulf of Mexico, bays, estuaries and in major rivers in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. The gulf sturgeon spends most of the year in freshwater, where it reproduces, and migrates to saltwater in the fall. Adult fish are bottom feeders, feeding primarily on invertebrates in the Gulf of Mexico and its estuaries. In early spring, the gulf sturgeon return to breed in the river system in which they hatched.”

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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