Engineering the Dam Fight: An Examination of the Role of Scientists and Engineers in Governance Conflicts Over the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin

Authors: Frank Schmitz*, Florida State University, Tyler McCreary, Florida State University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Water Resources and Hydrology
Keywords: Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, Water Governance, Science and Technology Studies, Political Ecology
Session Type: Poster
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Napoleon Foyer/Common St. Corridor, Sheraton, 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

For three decades, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and the United States Army Corps of Engineers have contested the use and allocation of water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) river basin. While these disputes are commonly known as the Tri-State Water Wars, we argue that they are misunderstood through a geopolitical framework alone and should also be understood as an engineered conflict. Specifically, viewing conflicts over water distribution in the ACF as an interstate conflict is an incomplete account, as it misunderstands or fails to consider the technical practices and production of knowledge by engineers and other experts. Through the creation of the Water Control Manual, the Corps establishes the guidelines and management practices that dictate flow releases from the system of dams within the ACF basin to best allocate water for a variety of purposes. The importance of balancing these different uses was underlined in 2012, when Florida’s Apalachicola Bay oyster industry collapsed amidst one of the worst recorded droughts in Southeast history. In response, Florida sued Georgia, attempting to cap its consumption and thereby increase the volume of water sent downstream. However, the Special Master of the case determined that in excluding the engineers, Florida neglected to include the very actors who regulate the flow of water in the rivers. This case demonstrates the necessity of looking beyond centralized state authority to analyze the practices of engineers and other experts who produce the technical knowledge that frames the terms under which water governance in the ACF is practiced, understood, and contested.

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