Surface water and groundwater catchments rarely align with the boundaries of cities, states, or nations. More often, water runs through, over, and under man-made sociopolitical divisions, making the governance of transboundary waters a formidable task. Although much of the public conversation regarding the availability and management of shared waters may appear to be dire (e.g., reports of “water wars”), there are transboundary basin water management strategies across the globe which offer hope. These include the efforts of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Stakeholders (ACFS) in the southeastern United States, which may serve as a useful template for future conversations around the water sharing table. The Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Basin (ACF Basin) is a vital economic engine in the southeastern United States. The waters of the ACF are shared between three states—Alabama, Florida, and Georgia—and harbor some of the richest freshwater biodiversity in North America, including sturgeon, rock bass, madtom, sculpin, bass, darters, and the highest densities of freshwater mussels in the world. Many of these are species of concern or threatened or endangered species; therefore, water management strategies in multiple portions of the ACF must comply with habitat protection plans under the U.S. Environmental Protection Act of 1970 (https://www.enr.gov.nt.ca/en/environmental-protection-act). The ACFS was organized in 2009 in the hopes of overcoming a decades-long stalemate between Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, regarding the use of shared waters in the ACF Basin. Despite years of litigious relationships among these three states, the ACFS managed to bring a diverse and previously contentious set of water users to the table and build consensus on a shared water management plan for the entire ACF Basin. While the ACFS holds no regulatory power, they made more progress in breaking through existing distrust and deadlock than any previous efforts in this basin to date. In the end, they developed cooperation, respect, and a sustainable and adaptive water management plan which included input and buy-in from all identified water sectors in the ACF Basin. It is, therefore, a valuable exercise to examine the ACFS model and contemplate whether it contains exportable methodologies for other catchments challenged with managing transboundary waters.
Article published in Case Studies in the Environment.