Flint River among most endangered in America

Group says Clayton’s urbanization a threat

The conservation group, American Rivers, has named the Flint River the second most endangered river in America. The river earned its spot on the list, in part, because urbanization in Clayton County is contributing to low water flows, the group said.

The conservation group, American Rivers, has named the Flint River the second most endangered river in America. The river earned its spot on the list, in part, because urbanization in Clayton County is contributing to low water flows, the group said.

— Clayton County’s urbanization is helping to destroy one of its main natural resources, according to a new report on the health of the nation’s rivers.

The Flint River, which begins in the increasingly developed northern part of Clayton County, is ranked second on an endangered rivers list released by the conservation group, American Rivers. Only the Colorado River is ranked higher.

Gail Cowie, a watershed manager for the Georgia Environment Protection Division, said the upper Flint River basin is particularly vulnerable to water use because of its size when compared to the hundred of thousands of people who live near its headwaters.

“If you look at where the Flint River begins, it’s a pretty small river and provides water to a lot of people so we have to manage it carefully and do a lot of planning for its future,” said Cowie, who manages the Chattahoochee River and Flint River basins.

Development in Clayton, Fayette and Spalding counties is a key factor in why the group said the river is in danger of dying.

American Rivers' Most Endangered Rivers For 2013

Click here to see American Rivers' full list of the most endangered rivers in the United States.

“The Flint is a river running dry,” the American Rivers report stated. “The reasons are many and include urbanization at the river’s headwaters, water demand from communities in the upper Flint basin, intensive agricultural water use in the lower basin and frequent and prolonged drought.”

The Flint River is 300 miles long and travels from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport southward through central and southwest Georgia before it merges with the Chattahoochee River to become the Apalachicola River in the Florida panhandle.

More than 1 million people and 10,000 farms get their water from the Flint River, according to the report.

In the upper Flint River Basin, county water systems in Clayton and Fayette counties, as well as city systems in Griffin, Peachtree City and Senioa, rely on the river for their water supply, according to a separate report released by American Rivers and the Flint Riverkeepers group.

The line of city water systems that pull from the upper basin stretches as far south as Thomaston.

The report pointed out that Clayton County Water Authority got a wasteload allocation from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division that could help the agency reduce some of its impact on the river.

“[It is] an initial step toward retiring a large LAS facility and potentially creating a new discharge of treated wastewater to the upper Flint River,” the report stated.

Cowie said areas that are more urbanized are filled with more “impervious surfaces,” such as roads and parking lots. Those surfaces prevent water from moving slowly into soil and eventually into nearby streams and rivers.

The water instead, she said, drains into the streams and rivers at one time rather than continuously draining into them at a slower rate.

“The water runs off very quickly into the streams so what you end up having is a very high flow of water followed by a low flow of water,” Cowie said.

Cowie said that a high flash of water runoff also causes erosion along a river’s banks and deposits pollutants such as motor oil and pieces of rubber tires into the rivers and streams, thereby damaging the stream’s ecosystem.

She said the creation of stream buffers can help prevent some of the erosion and keep some of the pollutants out of the Flint River.

“Communities along the upper Flint River Basin have a requirement for vegetated stream buffers,” Cowie said. “Those help protect streams from some of those impacts.”

American Rivers and Flint Riverkeepers are calling on residents and leaders in communities that depend on the Flint River to work together to address a drop in the amount of water flowing downstream.

Low water flows in the upper Flint River basin have decreased by more 70 percent since 1975, according to American Rivers’ report. By comparison, the flows have dropped by 40 percent over the same time period in the lower basin.

The report asserted the low water flow problem is threatening the vitality of communities along the Flint River as less and less water becomes available to sustain it. That can affect property values and recreation options along the river.

“Recreational paddling opportunities in the scenic upper river have declined over the last decade because the river runs low so often, especially in the warm months of the year,” the report stated. “Climate models predict even drier conditions in the future, promising to make the Flint’s low-flow issues increasingly dire for recreation, wildlife and communities.”

American Rivers and Flint Riverkeepers are working with water providers and users, residents, businesses, landowners, church congregations, non-profit organizations and government officials to find ways to increase water flows on the upper part of the river.

American Rivers and Flint Riverkeepers officials could not be reached for comment.