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Flint Riverkeeper awards presented

Paul DeLoach, chairman of Flint Riverkeeper, followed a presentation of service awards by asking group members to “tell five people what the Flint Rivers means to all of us here in Southwest Georgia.”

Paul DeLoach, chairman of Flint Riverkeeper, followed a presentation of service awards by asking group members to “tell five people what the Flint Rivers means to all of us here in Southwest Georgia.”

ALBANY — Three and a half years ago, the Flint was considered one of the most endangered rivers in the country. Politicians, including now Gov. Nathan Deal, were talking about building reservoirs to quench the ever-increasing thirst of metro Atlanta.

Concerned for the future of the Flint and for those who live downstream, Paul DeLoach gathered together an alliance of “stakeholders” — business people, farmers, outdoorsmen and the like — which was to become the Flint Riverkeeper, an organization to preserve and protect the Flint River and its tributaries. Deloach serves as current as board chair for the organization.

On Wednesday, the Riverkeeper group met at the River House in Albany to honor volunteers for their service to the cause, and for a formal “State of the River” address by executive director Gordon Rogers.

Rogers announced to the group that dams on the upper Flint “don’t exist on the current plan” for the river.

“That’s a huge victory,” Rogers said, “but the battle isn’t over. They chose their words very carefully, using words like ‘main stem,’ when they said it would not be dammed, but creeks are not included.”

Rogers went on to offer alternatives to building new reservoirs.

“If storing water is the issue, then a more efficient way might be to do it in Lake Lanier itself — simply by raising the pool,” Rogers said. We may be able to store literally billions of gallons more without a problem. The lake is owned by the Army Corp of Engineers and the consensus is that the option should be fully studied.”

Rogers said that Georgians should also be looking more seriously toward water conservation.

“Very big gains are available through more efficient technology, as well as commonsense water management,” Rogers said. “Perhaps water should be ‘more properly priced,’ according to its value. Instead of water prices going down as we use more of it, maybe it should go up instead.”

According to Rogers, Riverkeeper continues in its leadership role in legislation toward regulating interbasin transfers, or IBTs. Rogers said that water is often taken from Atlanta area reservoirs, used by consumers, then treated and transferred to another river basin.

“They return the water to a different river,” Rogers said, “It’s done because it’s easier and cheaper, but it’s a real problem for water flow to the Flint.”

Two planned coal-fired plants have been “stopped in their tracks,” Rogers said. “They’re not dead. It doesn’t mean they’re off the tracks, but we’re good for now.”

According to Rogers, coal-fired plants not only use a lot of water, but deposit mercury into the river as well.

“Mercury goes into the water, then into the fish and we eat the fish,” Rogers said.

To help put forth the Riverkeeper message, Rogers said that more than 75 paddling events, student sessions and cleanups have taken place, reaching “several thousand people.”

Volunteers receiving service awards included Robin Singletary, agribusiness owner and Riverkeeper chair-elect; John Kilpatrick; Drew Hilliard; Woody Hicks, a research scientist who received the Flint for Life award; Ned Newcomb, and Newcomb’s 13-year-old son, Edward.

Toward the end of the Riverkeeper meeting, DeLoach urged each member of the group to “tell someone about the Flint.”

“Tell someone what the Flint River means to all of us here in Southwest Georgia,” DeLoach said. “It’s vital to our economy, our culture and our quality of life. Your challenge is to take what you’ve heard today and share it with just five other people. We continue to grow and thrive because of you.”