The Lower Flint River Basin

The Flint River helps feed the world and the local economy, but how can we use it more sustainably?

  • Poorly planned development, farming and years of drought are threatening the future of the entire Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, the center of a tri-state battle over the future of this waterway.
  • Together with the upper part of the Apalachicola River, the Lower Flint River Basin is home to the greatest density of reptile and amphibian life in the United States.
  • Over the last decade, The Nature Conservancy in Georgia has been a part of long-term planning efforts and a powerful partnership that is working to bring policy solutions and innovations in agricultural water conservation to southwest Georgia.

Cotton is harvested in late morning and afternoon, after the dew of the night has evaporated from the soft white fibers erupting from dark bolls. And despite the bright sun overhead and the usually mild weather of southwest Georgia, a blooming cotton field fools your eyes. It almost looks like snow.

A harvesting machine big enough to house a family loudly gnaws across the land, removing the fluff and seeds and leaving stripped stalks swaying in the wind.

Meanwhile, palm-of-your-hand sized Barbour's map turtles and freshwater mussels found nowhere else in the world are not oblivious to the cycles of planting and harvest going on around them. The rare species that rely on the waters of the Flint are struggling for survival.

Years of chronic drought combined with agricultural, community and industrial water use has left this river system at risk. The Flint River flows from Atlanta through southwest Georgia where it meets the Chattahoochee to form the Apalachicola River in northwest Florida. For more than a decade now, this large river system has been at the center of a legal battle between Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

The crops cultivated in the flat, fertile Lower Flint River Basin are consumed around the world. More peanuts and pecans are grown in Georgia than any other state, and sweet corn and cotton are not far behind. And communities in Georgia, Alabama and Florida need the waters of the entire system to fuel their economy and supply their citizens.

So The Nature Conservancy is working on two complimentary fronts to secure a sustainable future for the Lower Flint River Basin and beyond. First, we are engaged with a stakeholder planning process that is mapping out scenarios for the system, taking ecological, political and economic factors into consideration. Ultimately, this process will yield a blueprint for river management that can result in policy action.

Approaching the issue from another angle, we are working with partners and leaders in the Lower Flint River Basin to improve agricultural irrigation efficiency. Farmers rely on enormous center-pivot irrigation systems to water crops; these long arms oh-so-slowly walk across a field in a radius from a center point spraying water from nozzles mounted on the arm. A lot of water is lost due to evaporation, and areas like wetlands or rock outcroppings where crops don’t grow are often watered too. There is also a lack of usable data about just how much water is already in the soil. 

And that’s where the magic begins. The Nature Conservancy, the Flint River Soil and Water Conservation District and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service are working together to take cutting-edge water conservation technologies and methods developed by the University of Georgia and other researchers from the lab to the working farm. These new ideas are changing the way farmers grow the products we need, saving billions of gallons of water a year, and research to determine how conservation efforts are impacting the river are ongoing.

Discover more about the Flint River and how The Nature Conservancy is working to secure a sustainable future for the river and farming.


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