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Transcript of floor statements of U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson

POSTED: December 31, 2007 5:02 a.m.
Mr. CHAMBLISS. Mr. President, I know many of my colleagues have become involved in issues in their States stemming from a shortage of water over the years. Sometimes these issues are intrastate, sometimes they are interstate. Regardless of the size or scope, they always get very complicated quickly.

The water wars between Georgia, Florida, and Alabama that have been going on for decades are no different in that regard. They too get very complicated very quickly. There are decades of negotiations, agreements, lawsuits and settlements, and the Governors of the three States are still attempting in good faith to come to a resolution. In fact, those three Governors met in Tallahassee, FL, yesterday, along with Secretary Kempthorne, to create a roadmap forward on this very complicated issue.

There is language included in this Omnibus appropriations bill that does not resolve the very complex problems that the three States continue to deal with, the allocation of water among them. Rather, the language in this bill seeks to, one, insert Congress into the middle of an ongoing dispute and attempts to pick winners and losers in that dispute; two, it attempts to limit the ability of the Corps of Engineers to provide complete and accurate technical data to make recommendations to the States involved in the dispute; and, three, prohibits the Corps of Engineers from completing the process of updating water control manuals, which they have begun to do on one basin, and which they are required to do by statute and their own regulations.

I object strongly to the language regarding this issue included in this bill. The Army Corps of Engineers operates a number of different reservoirs across river systems around the country. Normally they conduct their operations under a water control plan, which is a plan that identifies the objectives for managing the system; basically, the release and retention of water for different needs, such as navigation, water supply, hydropower production, recreation, as well as other needs.

The water control plan is the manual by which the Corps of Engineers manages the river systems, and they do so within the confines of water allocations set for each State.

Now water can be allocated among States in one of three ways: interstate water compacts, direct congressional appointments, or equitable apportionment by the Supreme Court of the United States.

Obviously, interstate water compacts are the preferred method for allocating water, because they allow the States, which are the most knowledgeable about their own water resources and needs for water, to do the apportioning. That is what the Governors of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida are currently trying to do.

The State of Georgia shares the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin with Alabama and Florida. Georgia also shares the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa River Basin with Alabama. After 17 years of litigation, the Governors of these three States are finally at the negotiating table finding a way forward on this very difficult issue.

I commend them for doing so during these exacerbating drought conditions we are now experiencing. It is always harder to discuss sharing water when there is less of it to go around. So during this time of progress, it is mind boggling to see this language in the omnibus bill intended to block that progress. It is a blatant dilatory tactic. I am disappointed it is included in this bill. I am disappointed for several reasons.

First, this is not an issue into which Congress should be inserting itself. The Corps of Engineers is required by Federal statute and their own regulations to operate the reservoirs with up-to-date water control manuals. However, for the ACF basin, the only approved water manual was prepared in 1958 and does not even include the Federal facilities at West Point, Walter F. George, or George W. Andrews.

The process of updating the manuals has been on hold for almost 20 years as litigation between the States has been ongoing. However, last year, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered that the Corps of Engineers proceed with its NEPA studies, which is the necessary first step in updating the water control manuals. The court ordered it be done as expeditiously as possible.

Apart from the fact that Congress should not be inserting itself in this issue, apart from the fact that everyone knows updated water control manuals are required by law, have been ordered by a Federal court and are beneficial to all parties, I am also disappointed to see this language because of the process by which it got into this bill.

This language was not in the House-passed version of the Energy and Water appropriations bill. And, in fact, the only instance in which the House has considered this issue was last year during the debate on the fiscal year 2007 Energy and Water appropriations bill. Similar language was removed from that legislation by a House vote of 216 to 201. So this language was not in the House-passed bill.

The full Senate did not even debate the fiscal year 2008 Energy and Water appropriations bill. Only the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee approved this language. It has now been included in this omnibus bill. That simply is not right.

Finally, let me say that I noted with interest the fact that last week, seven States in the western part of the United States signed a historic water-sharing agreement.

I congratulate those from Utah, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wyoming who worked on this issue and were able to complete what I am sure was a very difficult process. It gives those of us in the Southeast hope for that light at the end of the tunnel, hope that we, too, can reach agreement one day. I ask my colleagues to consider for a moment that if during the midst of progress on that historic water agreement a Member of the Senate attempted to use the appropriations process to prevent the Corps of Engineers from implementing the most up-to-date information in the management of the water that crosses those States. I hope those colleagues would consider the negative impact that would have on the process in which their States were engaged.

I read very carefully the language my colleague from Alabama inserted into this omnibus bill. I can only take solace in the fact that at least the language allows the Corps of Engineers to continue the process of updating the water control manuals, even though it seems to prevent them from actually implementing those manuals, whatever recommendations come out of those manuals. We all know updating water control manuals is a 2-year process. You can rest assured that we will revisit this issue and rest assured when the time comes, I will do everything in my power to make sure these critical updated manuals are actually implemented. I think at the end of the day my colleague from Alabama will discover that updated water control manuals will benefit all parties involved in the difficult negotiations of water allocation among the three States.

I yield the floor.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Georgia.

Mr. ISAKSON. Mr. President, I associate myself entirely with the remarks of the distinguished Senator from Georgia. Secondly, I express my appreciation to Senator Reid for his attempt when this was discovered to allow us a chance to debate the merits of the proposal in division C of section 134 of the Omnibus appropriations act. Unfortunately, that could not be done. Senator Chambliss and I are left with expressing our deep disappointment on the floor of the Senate tonight.

I would like to read one sentence from that article(in the Marietta Daily Journal) Governors Charlie Crist of Florida, Sonny Perdue of Georgia, and Alabama's Bob Riley said ``that their staffs will continue to work together to come up with a plan for doling out the region's water by March 15.''

That common goal stated by those three governors today in Florida puts us within less than 90 days' reach of what has been out of the grasp of the States of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida for 18 years, since 1989. At the last minute, because of a broken process for an Omnibus appropriations bill to contain legislation that directs, potentially limits, or sets the parameters by which the Corps of Engineers might be able to implement control of the waterways is just not right. It is my sincere hope at some time in the future those who might have thought this was a good idea will recognize it is actually contrary to what we in the Senate from the three States have attempted to do when we had a summit in Washington less than 2 months ago with our three Governors and the Secretary of the Interior.

There is no more precious gift than water, no better and more precious resource than water. There also is nothing better in the legislative process than a spirit of cooperation between each of us who shares borders in our States so as to find the right way to solve problems, not have dilatory tactics to postpone or delay problems.

I conclude by expressing my deep disappointment that the Omnibus appropriations bill contains division C, section 134, which has those potentially limiting factors and urge my colleagues to look to the future to find solutions, rather than a way to protract and delay and find confusion.

Mr. DOMENICI (Senator from New Mexico). Mr. President, I wanted to say to the two Senators who have just spoken, this Senator from New Mexico is ranking member of that committee. I am not chairman any longer of the committee they have alluded to. I can assure them that it was not overt action on this Senator's part that put that provision in the bill. I think you know that. We would be talking; I am pretty accessible. You two have already been telling me. I am hopeful that my presence on that committee will be of help to you in resolving whatever problems might be caused by its being there.




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