What do fresh water mussels on the coastal shore of Alabama have to do with Atlanta? The first answer that comes to mind is “who cares?” A slightly more accurate, and possibly less interesting answer is, a lot. Right now the shellfish on the gulf coast of are lazily soaking a constant flow of three billion gallons of fresh, Georgia drinking water, compliments of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a very parched, very unwilling state of . That’s three billion gallons a day.
Still doesn’t add up? Well, the story is that Georgia is going through a record dry spell. The majority of Georgia’s drinking water is held in a huge man-made reservoir named Lake Lanier. What makes things interesting is that Georgia isn’t actually in control of this lake. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is running the show there. And they’ve determined that the endangered Fat Threeridge and Purple Bankclimber mussels on the gulf shore need constant flow of fresh water from the state of Georgia to keep them healthy. To accomplish this, they are draining billions of gallons of water from Lake Lanier, which is already at historic lows. (Don’t ask me exactly how the water is getting all the way down there, the process involves at least three different rivers that are a bit difficult to track on Google maps. There’s an explanation of it in this article on the AJC website.)
Up until today, I was among the ranks of the populace that takes things like watering restrictions and stories about drought with a grain of salt. “Our clean water being dumped by the ton in the sea for snails during a drought? Meh, typical government idiocy,” I thought with a shrug. This isn’t the first dry year I’ve seen in my short history in the area. And since I don’t have any greenery to maintain, the watering restrictions aren’t relevant to me. Every time I turn on the faucet, I get water, no problem. But then I heard that Atlanta has about 150 days worth of water left before people turn on the tap and hear it give a dry sputter. Holy crap! I like drinking water. I tolerate bathing. I’m kind of used to both!
And then I heard something else. While Georgia has instituted a complete ban on outdoor water activities and is asking it’s residents to find ways to reduce consumption, Florida and Alabama is doing nothing. Nothing! It seems they have no official process in place to handle drought conditions. That’s right, people in the regions slurping down billions of Atlanta’s drinking water to keep a handful of Mollusks nicely moist are still out there washing their Cameros and splashing about on their Slip ‘n Slides. Memo from Georgia: Take care of your own damn shellfish!
As if that weren’t bad enough, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has recently admitted to a colossal screw-up. In the early days of the drought, they drained off too much water. Way too much water. Billions of gallons of water. Officially, a faulty gauge is being blamed for a loss of two feet of water from the lake, though the truth of the matter is that local residents repeatedly warned them, and the Corps ignored the warnings.
Unbelievable, huh? What if I told you the story isn’t finished? No way! You say. Way, sez I. Apparently the state of Georgia has taken the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to court to get them to stop pissing away our water. That’s right. This very moment countless gallons are still coursing their way toward ungrateful slimy critters in shells. And those stupid mussels too. (I kid, I kid! I couldn’t help myself! I like Florida. And Alabama… well, hey!) And you know how rebellious us Southerners can be (I guess I’m guilty by proximity), there’s even talk about seizing control of the dam on the lake from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Damn, all this writing is making me thirsty. I guess its time to stockpile bottled water.