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Florida tries to delay flow reduction

Writes letter to federal officials

POSTED: December 18, 2007 5:02 a.m.

The secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has appealed to federal officials to delay any further reduction in the water flow from Jim Woodruff Lock and Dam at the border of Georgia and Florida. The dam is at the end of the Chattahoochee River and depends on water releases from Buford Dam on Lake Lanier.

Secretary Michael Sole, in a letter dated Wednesday, wrote that the initial flow reduction has "wrought compelling damage on Florida’s highly sensitive aquatic resources."

In a Biological Opinion and Conference Report dated Nov. 15, the corps announced plans to reduce the flow at Woodruff from 5,000 cubic feet per second to 4,750 cfs, with plans to reduce further to 4,500.

In a letter dated Nov. 21, Curtis M. Flakes, chief of the planning and environmental division of the corps’ Mobile district, said the discharge had stabilized at 4,770 cfs, which resulted in a 3-inch reduction in the river level immediately below the dam and 1« inches at nearby Blountstown, Fla.

The corps and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were to determine by today the appropriate criteria for further reduction to 4,500 cfs.

However, Lisa Coghlan, a corps spokeswoman, said the corps was still consulting with the Fish and Wildlife Service "to determine the triggers for 4,500 cfs."

She did not say when an agreement would be reached.

However, the flow from Woodruff dipped below the 4,500 mark on several days in November with an average for the month of 4,587 cubic feet per second. The flow on Thursday averaged 4,679.

Sole, in his letter, calls on the corps to provide stakeholders in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin with proof that the "project purposes" have benefited from the corps’ effort to date. The project purposes are the specific uses of reservoirs that are authorized by Congress.

"The balance of harms does not allow for water storage on principle," Sole wrote.

He said the zone plan the corps uses to rate the water levels favors Lanier.

"The Corps’ zones are overly protective of upstream reservoir storage, and management based on the zones improperly restricts the flow of water out of the reservoir system," he wrote.

Sole states that by next May, the conservation storage could reach as high as 66 percent and that Florida would be locked in an artificial drought.

The letter was copied to corps officials, as well as U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and Dale Hall, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The letter was not shared with representatives of the states of Alabama and Georgia.

The three governors were to meet next week in Tallahassee, Fla., but that meeting has been postponed until Dec. 17.

Bert Brantley, a spokesman for Gov. Sonny Perdue said the schedule change was made to accommodate Kempthorne, who is planning to attend the session.

Perdue has credited Kempthorne, a former Idaho governor, with breaking the logjam between the three chief executives.

Brantley said the governor’s office had seen the letter from Sole and saw the letter as Florida making their case.

"These issues will all be put out in the open for everyone to discuss," Brantley said, adding that the governor was going to the meeting intent on making progress on an agreement and not just for political or public relations purposes.



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