Florida Congresswoman Gwen Graham's "Apalachicola Bay Restoration Act" has attracted the support of more than 20 other members of the Florida delegation, all of whom are co-sponsoring the bill to save the oyster industry in North Florida.
On Tuesday, Democrat Graham unveiled the legislation, which mandates the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “consider fresh water flow to the Apalachicola Bay in their water management plans.”
The Corps of Engineers runs reservoirs connected to the Chattahoochee River, which determine freshwater flow down to Apalachicola Bay. Currently, Florida, Georgia and Alabama are at an impasse on the water, with the Sunshine State’s oyster industry clashing with the need for drinking water in and around Atlanta and hydro-electric plants in Alabama.
Less than three years ago, the Apalachicola Bay oyster fishery was one of the most productive in the nation.
In 2012, Apalachicola Bay oyster fishers harvested more than 3 million pounds of oyster meat, roughly 92 percent of the Florida oyster harvest and 10 percent of the harvest nationwide. In 2013, that total dropped to around 1 million pounds, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared a fishery disaster on the bay.
Graham made her case for why the bill was needed on Tuesday.
“The Apalachicola Bay represents the heart and soul of North Florida,” Graham insisted. “This isn’t just a fight over water -- we’re fighting to save a way of life.
“This legislation is an important step to restoring freshwater flow and restoring our bay,” Graham added.
Apalachicola Bay oysters have significantly declined in recent years, not only because of overharvesting, but because of a lack of sufficient freshwater flows in the Apalachicola River. Scientists say the culprit in freshwater decline is the reduction in water siphoned off from the river in Georgia.
Since 1990, control of water in the river system shared by Florida, Georgia and Alabama has been the subject of lengthy litigation. In the fall of 2013, Gov. Rick Scott announced a new lawsuit against Georgia in the U.S. Supreme Court and that challenge is continuing.
But even with Scott’s lawsuit still in play, there are efforts for Florida, Georgia and Alabama to work together. Earlier this month ACF Stakeholders showcased its plan to balance the three states’ needs. ACF Stakeholders’ recommendations included a larger role for the Corps of Engineers, including sending water releases into the Apalachicola River during the spring.
Graham rounded up 20 members of the Florida delegation to back the bill, with U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., as the co-sponsor.
“Apalachicola Bay is a critical part of Florida’s environment and economy,” Buchanan said on Tuesday. “With the right management and conservation efforts, we can save it from total collapse. This bipartisan bill represents an important part of that solution.”
Other co-sponsors from Florida include Republican U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Ron DeSantis, Mario Diaz-Balart, David Jolly, Jeff Miller, Rich Nugent, Tom Rooney, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Dennis Ross and Ted Yoho; Democrat U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, Kathy Castor, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Alan Grayson, Alcee Hastings, Patrick Murphy, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson.
“Members of the Florida delegation from across the state are rallying to save the bay,” Graham said. “This shows how much we can achieve as a united delegation with a bipartisan attitude.”