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Corps plans to rewrite manual for river system

POSTED: February 11, 2008 5:02 a.m.
U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Gainesville, said Wednesday that the secretary of the Army is preparing to instruct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin work on the operating manuals for the Apalachicola-
Chattahoochee-Flint river system.

Deal said his office was contacted by Undersecretary John Paul Woodley Jr. and was told that a letter would be coming from Secretary of the Army Pete Geren.

"That’s certainly very good for us," Deal said.

The action follows a move by U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., to stall any action on the manuals, parts of which have not been revised in 50 years and were written prior to many of the current environmental laws.

Shelby’s amendment to the omnibus spending plan prohibits any funds for implementation of the revised operating manuals in the current budget year. Deal’s office said Woodley and Geren believe that only preliminary work will be done in this fiscal year, which ends in October.

"We were concerned that Sen. Shelby’s amendment would impact that, but Woodley says it will not," Deal said.

After Deal informed The Times of Geren’s decision, U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson confirmed they had been told of the decision.

"The water control plans governing these two critical river basins are decades old and no longer serve the needs of the state of Georgia," Isakson said. "It is imperative that we update the water control plan to reflect 21st century demand and usage."

He called Geren’s action a "good first step."

Chambliss repeated his concern about the age of the current manual.

"For the ACF Basin, the only approved master manual was prepared in 1958 and does not even include the federal facilities at West Point, Walter F. George or George W. Andrews," Chambliss said. "I was pleased to hear from Secretary Geren personally that the corps is moving forward with updating these manuals, because it will allow the corps to make smarter decisions in their management of these river systems. We have underscored to him how important this action is."

Isakson and Chambliss have also worked to get Georgia, Florida and Alabama together and to force the corps to update a 20-year-old water control plan for the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa and Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basins. In 2006, Isakson and Chambliss held Senate hearings in Gainesville and Columbus to implore the corps to keep its commitment to update its outdated water control plan for the two river basins.

In 2007, Geren said he wanted to give court-ordered mediation time to work before ordering the update of the water control manuals.

However, Geren gave his commitment to the senators that if and when mediation broke down and was not making progress, he would begin the update of the water control manuals. Geren’s predecessor had committed to begin the update of the water control manuals on Jan. 2, 2007, but failed to do so.

Last September, after judges involved in the mediation announced that the talks had broken down, Isakson and Chambliss sent a letter to Geren strongly urging him to honor his pledge to update the water control plan.

That breakdown in the talks eventually resulted in the White House intervening in the negotiating process. A November meeting with U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne was followed in December by a meeting with the governors of Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

On Oct. 18, Woodley told both senators by telephone that the corps will start the process for updating the water control manual for the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa River Basin.

The tri-state water battle began when Alabama sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1990 to block the corps from giving metro Atlanta any more water out of Lake Lanier. Since then, Alabama, Florida and Georgia have made a number of unsuccessful attempts to negotiate a long-term agreement on how to share water.

Water officials from the three states met in West Virginia earlier this month to iron out technical matters on a proposed pact.

Kempthorne has said he was hopeful of a signed agreement by mid-February.

In a previous interview with The Times, Gov. Sonny Perdue called that timetable "optimistic."



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