“. . . the purity of the wild flower and the unspoiled countryside so often puts to shame the high culture of town and court. There is a wild and untamable beauty in man when he is in harmony with nature.” —Bernard Leach, from the introduction to The Unknown Craftsman
Georgia, Florida and Alabama are fighting over water rights. Each state claims an equal share of the water flow out of Lake Lanier in north Georgia down the Chattahoochee River. The river flows south through Georgia and Alabama, then combines with the Flint River to form Florida’s Apalachicola River which flows through endangered habits before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico.
The water rights fight has grown louder and more antagonistic this year as the worst drought in Georgia history now threatens to turn metropolitan Atlanta’s water restrictions into water rationing. Atlanta believes that the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers–who operates the reservoir’s Buford Dam–is releasing billions of gallons of water to main downstream flows at an exorbitant level.
Florida and Alabama, while noting that Atlanta is too large a city to depend upon a water supply in such a small watershed, say that north Georgia does not own the water and can’t take more than its fair share.
The river’s federally-mandated flow levels, which do threaten Atlanta, are maintained in part to serve the needs of threeridge muscles living along the Apalachicola River. These muscles are found no where else in the world and are an endangered species. Wildife biologists say that the muscles are dying and that reduced flow levels will doom the species.
Residents of metropolitan Atlanta keep focusing on one question: Why should five million people have to suffer through water rationing, industry cutbacks, failing businesses and more unemployment just to save a muscle? “Are we less important in the scheme of things?”
Without discounting the horrible devastation and loss of life from the San Diego fires, Atlanta residents point out that while north Georgia’s distrastrous drought doesn’t make for flashy video coverage, drought-related losses far surpass the financial impact of the fires. To save a muscle in the face of that is, many think, a slap in the face.
It begs the point, I suppose, to say that poor planning is partly responsible for this problem. For years, many of the counties around Atlanta have been among the fastest growing in the nation. Logically, it would have been obvious that–even without the muscles and the other creatures living in the swamps and tidal marshes along the Apalachicola in the picture as water users–additional watershed sources needed to be found along with ramped up conservation efforts.
Either/or questions about the survival of men vs. the survial of one species or another are quite natural to ask. They lead to more sarcastic follow-up questions such as: “If you arrived home and found your house on fire, would you run in and save your dog before you saved your child?” OR: “If you had a muscle or even a goldfish in an aquarium, would you carry it out of the house while your spouse was left do die?”
Of course not.
Nonetheless, such questions miss the point because they betray the general arrogance of those who believe that man’s dominion over the Earth is tantamount to a divine right to destroy the Earth so that humans may live extravagent life styles with no real attempt at conservation.
If we reduce all environmental issues to simplistic, disaster-mode either/or questions, the environment will continue to suffer because such questions appear to be absolution for each plant or animal species we condemn. Such thinking also allows us to keep ignoring wake-up calls–or from even knowing we’re getting wake-up calls–as well as the interdependent relationship between man and the environment.
Even from an expedient, self-serving viewpoint, we appear to be ignorant of the fact that, to put it bluntly, we are pissing in our own drinking water while playing dice with the plant/animal/habitat food chains on which our food supply and survival depend.
Every time we reach the point where humans-vs.-muscles questions seem logical, we have already failed badly.
It’s easy, and perhaps logical, to say that the rights of a rare muscle in north Florida shouldn’t trump the rights of millions of people. Yet, as biologist Karen Herrington (as quoted in today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution) said of the muscles, “They’re like the canary in the coal mine. We need to all work together to protect the muscles so we can protect people, too”