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Influences of environmental settings on aquatic ecosystems in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basin

January 1, 1996

The watershed boundary of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River basin defines an aquatic ecosystem whose water quality is the result of complex interactions of natural and human influences on land and water resources. Topics relating to the basin's environmental setting-its physical, biological, and cultural characteristics-are summarized to provide an understanding of factors that influence water quality and the health of aquatic ecosystems.

The ACF River basin lies partly in southwestern Georgia, southeastern Alabama, and northwestern Florida and covers 19,800 square miles in the Blue Ridge, the Piedmont, and the Coastal Plain Provinces. The basin includes the drainages of the Chattahoochee River and the Flint River, which meet to form the Apalachicola River. The Apalachicola River flows into the Gulf of Mexico at Apalachicola Bay. Basin hydrology and water quality are influenced by 16 mainstem reservoirs, 13 of which are on the Chattahoochee River. Ground water in the basin is contained in six aquifers-the surficial aquifer system, the Floridan aquifer system, the Claiborne aquifer, the Clayton aquifer, the Providence aquifer, and the crystalline-rock aquifer.

Physiography, climate, and hydrology of the ACF River basin provide natural conditions that support a rich and abundant diversity of plants and animals. Although most of the ACF River basin has been altered by human activities, the basin's environment is noteworthy for its remaining biological diversity and the role it plays in sustaining biological productivity in Apalachicola Bay. The Bay produces 90 percent of Florida's and 13 percent of the Nation's oyster harvest; and functions as a nursery for penaeid shrimp, blue crabs, and a variety of fin fish. The diversity of the basin's aquatic fauna is noteworthy because the basin is home to (1) the largest number of fish species among Gulf Coast drainages east of the Mississippi River, (2) the largest assemblage of freshwater fish in Florida, (3) the largest number of mollusc species among western Florida drainages, and (4) the highest species density of amphibians and reptiles on the continent north of Mexico.

Population of the ACF River basin in 1990 was estimated at 2.6 million. Nearly 90 percent of the total population lived in Georgia, and nearly 60 percent lived in the Metropolitan Atlanta area. The 1990 basin population is projected to increase by 15 percent to 3.0 million by the year 2000, and by 30 percent to 3.4 million by 2010. The largest increases in populations are projected for the Metropolitan Atlanta area.

In 1972-76, approximately 59 percent of the basin was covered by forest, 29 percent was agricultural, 5 percent was wetland, 4 percent was urban, and 3 percent was water or barren land. Most of the original land cover of the basin has been transformed by human activity. Timber is the basin's largest cash crop and most forests consist of second-growth stands or large acreages of planted pine. The dominant agricultural land use in the Piedmont Province is pasture and confined feeding for dairy, livestock, and poultry production. Row-crop agriculture, orchards, and silviculture are most common in the Coastal Plain Province. The top five crops in order from most to least acres harvested in 1990 were peanuts, corn, soybeans, wheat, and cotton.

The water in the basin is used for public and industrial supply, irrigation, power generation, navigation, and recreation. Although most public-supply withdrawals in the Blue Ridge and Piedmont Provinces are from surface-water sources, with the exception of counties near or immediately below the Fall Line, all publicly supplied water in the Coastal Plain is withdrawn from ground-water sources. Ground water supplied 18 percent of the basin's population served by public supply. Total water withdrawn in the ACF River basin in 1990 was 2,098 million gallons per day (Mgal/d), of which Georgia withdrew 82 percent and Florida and Alabama each withdrew 9 percent. Power generation is the single largest water use. Sixteen of the basin's 22 power generating plants are located along the mainstem of the Chattahoochee River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains a navigation channel from the mouth of the Apalachicola River to Columbus, Ga., on the Chattahoochee River and to Bainbridge, Ga., on the Flint River.

Water quality in the basin is influenced by the operation of 137 municipal wastewater-treatment facilities. In 1990, 354 Mgal/d of municipal wastewater was discharged within the ACF River basin. Eighty-eight percent of the wastewater was discharged into the Chattahoochee River basin, 10.6 percent into the Flint River basin, and 1.4 percent into the Apalachicola River basin.

Two-thirds of the 938 stream miles in the Georgia portion of the ACF River basin having water quality that does not meet or only partially meets the designated-use criteria in the Chattahoochee River basin. The Chattahoochee River is the most heavily-used water resource both in the ACF River basin and in Georgia. Urban runoff or unknown nonpoint sources are cited as the causes of water-quality regulations in 72 percent of violations. The remaining causes primarily are combined sewer overflows in the Atlanta area, and discharges from municipal or industrial treatment facilities with inadequate treatment capabilities or operational deficiencies.

Publication Year 1996
Title Influences of environmental settings on aquatic ecosystems in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basin
DOI 10.3133/wri954278
Authors C. A. Couch, E. H. Hopkins, P. S. Hardy
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series Number 95-4278
Index ID wri954278
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse