Friday, July 17, 2015

A Tale of Two Lakes

I didn’t know what he was talking about and I really didn’t care, it being 1974 and me being sixteen and all, but I can still hear my late father saying that he was mad at then-Governor Jimmy Carter for killing an Army Corps of Engineers plan to build a dam on the Flint River that would have turned the Sprewell Bluff area into a big lake. I don’t know how serious Daddy was about his complaints, but I suspect he wasn’t really all that upset, given that he hardly ever went fishing.

I’m a bit of a tree-hugger, so had I been paying attention, I probably would have agreed with Gov. Carter’s decision. Sprewell Bluff is a mighty pretty place and I’d hate to see it covered up with water. Besides, the fishing is good without the river being dammed up; fishermen and fisherwomen can (and do) go after the shoal bass that are unique to the Apalachicola -Chattahoochee-Flint river system. It’s also good to protect the various rare species that live along the Flint, including the Halloween darter that was just discovered in the 1990s.

The headwaters of the Flint are in Hapeville, of all places; the river begins as groundwater seepage that goes into a concrete culvert and then under the runways at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Fifty miles or so later the water from several creeks has joined with that seepage to form the beautiful Flint. It runs for almost 350 miles, eventually joining with the Chattahoochee River to form Lake Seminole in Southwest Georgia. The sole river that exits Lake Seminole and goes to the Gulf of Mexico is the Apalachicola, thus the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system.

The Flint is controversial as well as beautiful. It gets caught up in the “water wars” being waged between Georgia, Florida, and Alabama over access to the water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint system. The demands placed on the river by the pumping of water from the Flint watershed to irrigate crops in Southwest Georgia are also a cause of concern and controversy.

The Sprewell Bluff Lake (or whatever it would have been called) was never built. But another lake was built a long way away from here, and that one’s in serious trouble. Lake Mead was formed when the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River was completed in 1936. The dam, which depends on the water from the lake to drive its turbines, provides electricity to a large portion of the Western United States. It also provides water for a lot of people in a lot of places, including 90% of the water supply of Las Vegas. Because of a prolonged drought, Lake Mead is now 60% empty. In order to gain access to the water at the deepest part of the lake, Las Vegas has spent the last six years building a three-mile long tunnel under the lake. According to CBS News, the city will start accessing the reservoir’s water from beneath the lake by the end of the summer.

One wonders how long it will be before the last drop goes down that drain.

A few years ago I was listening to a rather eccentric fellow up in Minnesota who was holding forth on how important the Great Lakes were to the future of the United States. “If you think wars over oil are bad,” he opined, “just wait until we start fighting over water.” I usually dismiss such talk as paranoid ravings, but he had a point. Nothing is more vital to life than water, so if access to it ever becomes severely limited, I suppose it would get rough.

There’s a story in the Bible (Numbers 20) about the Hebrew people running out of water during their wilderness wanderings. When they complained to their leader Moses and his brother Aaron about the situation, the Lord told Moses to command a rock—a big rock, I presume— to produce water for the people. But when the people gathered around the rock, Moses hit the rock twice with his staff. Despite his abuse of the rock, the Lord still caused water to pour out of it.

Believe what you will about the role that human beings play in causing climate change, but any reasonable person can see that we often are not good stewards of this good earth and of the resources with which it provides us. One can’t help but wonder if we’ll eventually abuse the Earth until it has so little left to give that we have no recourse but to wage war over it.

Thus ends the tale of two lakes, one that didn’t get built and one they’re about to pull the stopper out of.

Those who have eyes to see, let them see …

(Most of the information about the Flint River is taken from

[This article first appeared in "Ruffin's Renderings" in the Thomaston (GA) Times on July 17, 2015)

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