Photo courtesy of the Apalachicola Reserve.
You may not want to choose between Georgia peanuts and Apalachicola oysters, but in Florida v. Georgia, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether to favor one state’s farmers over another’s fishermen in a decades long war over water resources that start in Georgia and flow into Apalachicola Bay. Once a leading producer of oysters’ worldwide, the bay’s oyster population has dropped by 90 percent in recent years. This dramatic decline prompted Florida to call to limit Georgia’s water consumption, which led to years of litigation, and now a place on the highest court’s docket.
“The bay’s health is directly linked to the amount of flow from the Apalachicola River,” says Steven Rash, President of Water Street Seafood, a wholesale distributor in Apalachicola. “Continued reduction of water flow has increased salinity to the point that the fisheries in the bay are being destroyed. This loss has been devastating to the economy and way of life in Franklin County and the surrounding region.”
Rash notes that the Apalachicola Bay Reserve is a resource in addressing this issue, as it “conducts a vital program that monitors the water quality of the bay.” For example, the reserve’s monitoring program looks at trends in the bay’s salinity, which has been generally increasing throughout the bay, especially during the drought years. This could have pronounced effects on local habitats and species, including oysters.
“Our data are used to assess long-term changes in the bay caused by a variety of influences,” observes Reserve Manager Jenna Harper. “These include upstream water diversions, land-use changes, global climate change, and man-made alterations, as well as the short-term effects of hurricanes, local storm events, and other natural events.”