The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ interim plan for operating Jim Woodruff Dam (Lake Seminole) on the Apalachicola River will not threaten the continued existence of federally protected freshwater mussels and the Gulf sturgeon fish in Florida.
The Biological Opinion released to the Corps today includes an Incidental Take Statement, which provides the Corps an exemption from take under the Endangered Species Act for harming protected species. In return, the Corps has committed to several actions to minimize the loss of mussels. Those include monitoring to evaluate the impact of dam operations.
“We want to thank our Corps colleagues for working with us to balance protection of our natural resources with the myriad of users that rely on the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin from metro Atlantans to Florida oystermen,” Southeast Regional Director Cindy Dohner said. “By protecting river flows for the people who depend on and enjoy the Apalachicola River and Bay, the Corps is also conserving these endemic freshwater mussels.”
The Apalachicola River, which is formed by the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers in Georgia where they meet in Lake Seminole, is home to three freshwater mussel species listed under the Endangered Species Act. They are the threatened purple bankclimber and Chipola slabshell, and the endangered fat threeridge. The Gulf sturgeon, which is listed as threatened, spawns in the river below Woodruff Dam at Lake Seminole. But the fish should not be adversely affected by the Corps’ reservoir operations because protective measures are in place.
The Corps’ Revised Interim Operating Plan calls for reducing the flow of water from Woodruff Dam into the Apalachicola River to as low as 4,500 cubic feet per second (cfs) during an extreme drought, to allow the reservoirs to recover. Current drought conditions in the ACF Basin triggered drought operations on May 1 in order to conserve water in upstream reservoirs that include Lake Lanier in metro Atlanta. The Corps has been releasing about 5,000 cfs of water into the Apalachicola River.
The Corps has operated with a minimum flow from Woodruff Dam at 5,000 cfs since 1957, officially adopting it in 1989 with the draft Water Control Plan for the basin. The primary purpose of the minimum release is to conserve water, to ensure the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin can continue serving a variety of water needs for the millions of people who depend on it for their drinking water, electric power, crop irrigation and other needs.