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Lawsuit Filed Over Management of Apalachicola River and Bay

The health of the Apalachicola ecosystem is the subject of a lawsuit. (Florida Department of Environmental Protection)
The health of the Apalachicola ecosystem is the subject of a lawsuit. (Florida Department of Environmental Protection)
May 2, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Spanning three states and ending in the Gulf of Mexico, the Apalachicola ecosystem is one of the most significant in the Western Hemisphere, which is why environmental groups are fighting for its survival in court.

The federal lawsuit alleges that the way the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has managed the flow of water in the river, its floodplain, and into the bay already has caused significant harm, and its new plan will only make things worse.

Melissa Samet, the senior water resources counsel for the National Wildlife Federation, one of the groups bringing the suit forward, says the Corps' actions are starving the floodplain and pushing the entire system to the brink of collapse.

"They've actually lost 4.3 million trees," she says. "Fish and wildlife are losing the places that they need to live and thrive and survive. In addition to that, the low flows change the salinity levels in the Apalachicola estuary, and that has really significant, adverse impacts on oysters."

The Corps manages a series of five dams and has in recent years greatly decreased the amount of water allowed to flow into the system.

The water-management manual was last updated in 1958, and despite recent meetings with U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials and environmental groups, the revised manual would further decrease the amount of water available for the Apalachicola, prompting the lawsuit.

Manley Fuller is the president and CEO of the Florida Wildlife Federation. He says in those meetings he tried to drive home the point that this is not just about water.

"The health of the ecosystem, the health of the environment, and the economy, they're all closely intertwined," Manley says. "They're like two sides of a coin."

Samet says the declining health of the river system and the bay already have taken a cascading toll on the livelihood of many Floridians.

"You have fishing economies, you have oysterman, you have fisherman, you have recreational fishers, and all the industries that go along with that: all the tourism, hunting, fishing, it just goes on and on, and all of these have been really significantly affected," Samet explains.

The lawsuit was filed late last week by Earthjustice on behalf of the National Wildlife Federation, the Florida Wildlife Federation and the Apalachicola Riverkeeper.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - FL