Apalachicola NERR

The Apalachicola River basin is only part of the larger Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River system (ACF), which drains an area covering approximately 19,600 miles, extending into the Blue Ridge Mountains. | Estuaries and coast | Coastal and Heartland | Indian River Lagoon | Apalachicola | Near St Augustine | Rookery Bay | Tampa and Sarasota Bays | Florida’s water districts | Water bodies | Aquifers

Intro - Atlanta to estuary

The balancing act of holding water in Buford Dam and releasing it from Lake Seminole

By Robert V. Sobczak

There’s nothing better than a good map …

Except for maybe a good hydrograph.

A map of the the river system

Even better is combining the two together.

Above is the map of the basin that feeds freshwater to Apalachicola Bay. As you can see, it’s three major rivers and reaches all the way up to Atlanta. More than a dot on the map, what’s known as the Metropolitan Area sprawls across a large area, and yes, it depends on drinking water stored behind Buford Dam in Lake Lanier.

Variation in Georgia’s Lake Lanier Stage over the years

A run of drought in the 2000s (shown above) severally stressed the water situation in the basin among stakeholders, with Atlanta’s water supply and minimum flows (5,000 cfs) to Florida’s Apalachicola Bay staking out hydrologic and legal ground on their fair shake of the water.

More recently (below) drought has eased.

Hydrograph comparing stage in Lake Lanier, discharge from Woodruff Dam (Lake Seminole) and annual “dam-released” discharge to Apalachicola Bay

Usually you think of “Water Wars” between states as something that only happens Out West, but right here in Florida we have a long-running and still-simmering “Tri-State Water Dispute.” I won’t call it a war because we’re also friends.

I also have a theory that good hydrographs promote peace.

View Hydrographs

animation lake canoe

Caloosahatchee meets Mississippi
And how the two compare

The Caloosahatchee is …

The king of freshwater flows in South Florida.

Comparison of annual freshwater discharge from the Caloosahatchee (red), Apalachicola (dark green) and Mississippi River (light green)

Currently flowing at around 5,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), it’s the single highest flowing point in the Greater Everglades. But not only is that flow rate dwarfed by the 17,000 cfs discharging out the mainstem of north Florida’s Apalachicola River, both are dwarfed by the nearly 700,000 cfs discharging from the Mississippi River into the Gulf. How much is 700,000 cfs … in more relatable lay audience terms? Answer: Every year, on average, the Mississippi River discharges about 100 Lake Okeechobee’s worth of freshwater into the Gulf. Note: The calculation is based on the assumption of a Lake stand of 15 ft above seas level, or the top of the Lake’s interior-levee littoral zone at which time its water volume is around 4 million acre feet. On average, the Caloosahatchee discharges about a quarter Lake Okeechobee volume worth of freshwater into the Gulf per year. Of course in the case of both, it’s just not water quantity — water quality matters, too, if not the most.

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Tidbit: The Mississippi starts its 2,552 mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico at Minnesota’s Lake Itasca, as photographed in 2014.