This meeting of the Apalachicola Riverkeepers advocacy group was held last Friday at the historic First National Bank in Marianna, a valued asset which the city maintains.

Two great advocates of the Apalachicola and Chipola rivers were lost this year. The two men – George Willson and Sid Folsom – were honored in a few moments of stories and memories at last Friday’s Apalachicola Riverkeepers meeting in Marianna.

Riverkeepers member Chad Taylor described the two as “bookends” who in their very different ways made a tremendous difference for those and other natural assets of the region. Both died this year, and they will be hard to replace, their fellow Riverkeeper say.

Willson spent his life in various professional positions that put him in roles through which he could advocate for the region’s natural resources. Taylor said he helped the state acquire many, many acres of land to place in conservation and in doing so help secure the wellbeing of those lands, and the water bodies they affect, for many generations to come. He was involved in the conservation of roughly 850,000 acres across the state. He served on the Northwest Florida Water Management District board, the Apalachee Land Conservancy, Florida Audubon, University of Florida Forest Resources and Conservation, and the Tall Timbers Research Station. He was known to have a special affection for the Florida Panhandle. He was not just an advocate on paper. He went frequently into the field and onto the water, and often had people with him in the boat or walking with him on those tours that could play a role in further advocating conservation projects. Even through the period of illness that he suffered before his death this year, he was still emailing and calling people about environmental issues until his last days.

As for that other “bookend,” it was the way that Sid Folsom lived his personal life that played such a big and just as important, but perhaps not as readily seen, role in the wellbeing of the area’s natural resources. See an accompanying story about Folsom.

After those stories were shared, Apalachicola Riverkeepers Executive Director Georgia Ackerman updated the group on a number of topics, including the legal issues currently in play regarding the decades-long “Water Wars,” involving a primary conflict between Florida and Georgia concerning water impoundment issues related to the Apalachicola-Flint-Chattahoochee (ACF) river system.

“The Apalachicola River stretches 107 miles from the Woodruff Dam in Chattahoochee, Florida southward to the Gulf of Mexico,” she wrote in an email about her remarks at the meeting. “It is part of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Basin (ACF Basin) shared by Alabama, Florida and Georgia. Dams and reservoirs on the Chattahoochee River, controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, altered the once free-flowing river system. Legal disputes over water use in the ACF Basin have lingered for three decades.”

On the current U.S. Supreme Court case, Florida vs. Georgia, Ackerman wrote, “Florida is seeking an equitable apportionment of water via a consumptive use cap on Georgia’s water use to remedy ecological and economic harm due to decreased freshwater flow from upstream. The case is currently under review by a special master, a court appointed judge. More oral arguments by the states will be heard this December by Judge Paul Kelly, Jr.”

She also talked about another case involving the ACF. “In a separate legal case, conservation partners, including Apalachicola Riverkeeper, filed suit in April 2017, against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over its ACF water control manual update, the first update since 1958,” she wrote. “The lawsuit shows that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to properly protect the environment when it developed a water management plan that will guide freshwater flows through the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River system for decades to come. That case also remains in play.”

“The Apalachicola River is Florida’s largest river in volume of freshwater flow with the 92-mile Chipola River as its largest tributary,” Ackerman added. “As part of their eco-educational outings, the (Riverkeepers) group leads kayaking trips on both rivers along with hiking excursion during cooler months. Apalachicola Riverkeeper recently was awarded grant funds to implement a water quality monitoring program. Additionally, a slough restoration project along the lower Apalachicola River is under consideration for funding.”

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