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Rubio: Florida Oyster Crisis At A Breaking Point

Earlier this year, a lot of people had a good laugh when I reached for a drink of water in the middle of a nationally televised speech. But a much more serious water-related issue has only just begun to receive the national attention it deserves.

For years, the water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint water basin has been and continues to be mismanaged by the state of Georgia and the Army Corps of Engineers. Freshwater supplies that have flowed for hundreds of years down the basin and emptied into the Apalachicola Bay have since been diverted. This water is now stored in so many different reservoirs that a once-vibrant oyster fishery, dependent on these flows to keep out saltwater predators, is now on the verge of collapse, and the livelihood of many fishermen is at stake. The situation has become so dire that the U.S. Commerce Department recently declared a disaster for the oyster fishery.

The fight over water is nothing new in our country. But most of our water supplies are now managed according to state compacts, or agreements between state governors on how water is allocated in any specific region. A tri-state compact is exactly what we need in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin — an agreement among Georgia, Alabama and Florida that recognizes the unique needs of each state and allocates our limited water resources accordingly.

Unfortunately, such an agreement remains elusive. The result is a status quo where Georgia takes an unfair share of the water to the detriment of hard-working Floridians in and around the Apalachicola Bay area. Last week, we brought Congress to our state, holding a committee field hearing to highlight how the poor management of water has impacted our citizens. It was heartbreaking to listen to Floridians who have worked these shores for generations and are now finding their source of income suddenly and inexplicably pulled out from under them.

During the hearing they expressed an understandable frustration at the fact that their livelihoods have been shattered by a purely man-made disaster. Their message was loud and clear: Apalachicola Bay simply cannot wait any longer for a solution.

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