From Conflict to Collaboration


Credit: Michael Hanson


By:  Staff, American Rivers

Editor’s note: NACWA is excited to welcome our first guest blog from the conservationist community. American Rivers has often been a strong partner of NACWA and our members, and this blog “cross-pollination” is an example of collaboration on a national level!


From Conflict to Collaboration

Topping American Rivers’ 2016 list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® is the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) system in Georgia, Alabama and Florida. These rivers are threatened as much by a historic inability of competing interests to work cooperatively, as by dams and urban runoff. But, as another folksy wise man really did once say, “the times, they are a-changin’.” Municipal clean water utilities, environmental groups, and other business, energy, and agricultural interests who rely on freshwater resources are beginning to band together across private, public, and grassroots environmental sectors to engage in watershed solutions to these critical issues.

Since 1984, the America’s Most Endangered Rivers report has highlighted rivers across the country that are under threat and face a critical decision-point in the coming year. It is meant to inform the public and key decision-makers – governors, federal agencies, state officials, municipal authorities – to take action to protect and conserve rivers.

The ACF provides 35 percent of the fresh water and nutrients to the eastern Gulf, nurturing the Florida estuary of Apalachicola Bay and supporting commercial fisheries valued at more than $5.8 billion. In 2012, the bay’s famous oyster fishery collapsed, due in part to lack of freshwater coming down from Georgia. Cities, agriculture, industry and the ecosystem itself are placing heavy demands on a river system at increasing risk of prolonged drought as climate change takes hold.

Cities, farmers, and fishermen rely on limited water supplies across the nation.  Those stakeholders are increasingly willing to work collaboratively. This collaborative potential was on display at this week’s River Rally 2016, where municipal interests like NACWA and environmental NGOs like American Rivers joined with over 400 other conservationists, advocates, scientists and concerned citizens to dig deep into water solutions and innovations.

It sounds like a tall order, and it is, but the move from water conflict to water cooperation is not unprecedented, and in fact is beginning to take hold all over the country. In Washington State, municipalities, irrigators, tribes, sportsmen, and conservationists decided to put aside confrontation and instead cooperate to conserve and improve the management of the Yakima River, a river system facing challenges not too different from those facing the ACF.

Today the Yakima River Integrated Management Plan is in place and implementation is getting under way. Their model of cooperation is being promoted and studied by stakeholders from the Colorado River to the Neuse River in North Carolina. Even in the ACF, diverse stakeholder groups such as the Upper Flint River Working Group and ACF Stakeholders are working across the battle lines of the water war to promote water management reforms and river conservation.

It’s not too late to bring stakeholders across the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin, and watersheds nationwide, together and to understand that from headwaters to estuaries, protection of water quality and quantity in our streams and rivers can only be achieved through collaboration.

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