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Florida to feds: Don’t limit flows from Lanier

POSTED: May 12, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Florida environmental officials have weighed in on a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers interim operating plan that would limit flows into the Apalachicola River.

They don’t like it.

Calling the impact "potentially disastrous," Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole criticized the plan that would help Georgia keep more drinking water during dry times in reservoirs such as Lake Lanier.

The letter, addressed to both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers, outlined the effects of the plan on Florida’s ecosystem and the oyster industry that’s a large part of the economy in the area where the Apalachicola River empties into the bay.

Sole again used the example of the Gulf sturgeon, a protected species, in making his case.

"From April 12-14, in compliance with the EDO, the corps dropped river flows from over 35,000 cfs to less than 13,000 cfs just as Gulf sturgeon had initiated their spawn," Sole wrote. "In all likelihood, many sturgeon eggs were lost during that operation."

Sole also uses a February ruling by a federal Court of Appeals in Washington that involves storage of water in Lake Lanier.

"The corps lacks authority to operate Lake Lanier principally for water supply purposes," Sole wrote. "Moreover, the corps recently concluded that water from the Inactive Pool of Lake Lanier would support drinking water uses."

Sole goes on to say there is no reason to curtail flows into the Apalachicola, just to keep Lake Lanier’s water level more than 1,035 feet above mean sea level.

Florida, Georgia and Alabama have fought for nearly two decades about water rights in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa river basins. The issue reached a critical point last year when the Atlanta and North Georgia region’s water supply was threatened because of a drought. The corps started holding back water flowing into Florida as reservoir levels dropped.

The result was higher salinity, which killed off oysters, Sole wrote. The bay produces 90 percent of Florida’s commercially harvested oysters.

"If implemented, (the plan) would starve the Apalachicola River and Bay of freshwater flows needed to sustain those ecosystems and the species and economies dependent on them," Sole wrote.

The proposal for the new plan comes after settlement negotiations among the governors of Florida, Georgia and Alabama broke down in February, prompting Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to say the federal government would impose its own solution.

In times of extreme drought, the plan would continue a temporary provision announced last fall allowing river flows to dip below the current minimum of 5,000 cubic feet per second at the Jim Woodruff Dam, near the Florida border. Under particularly wet conditions, it also allows for reservoirs such as Lake Lanier to keep up to 50 percent of their inflow instead of the current maximum of 30 percent.

Kevin Begos, executive director of the Franklin County (Fla.) Oyster and Seafood Task Force, applauded Sole’s letter.

"We’re perplexed why the Corps of Engineers doesn’t take into account the court ruling and jumping ahead to a pre-determined conclusion," Begos said.

The plan is to be finalized by June 1.

Meanwhile, Georgia officials have asked the corps to extend the flow reductions at Peachtree Creek for another month. The temporary flow reduction ended on Wednesday.

The proposed reduction, from 750 cubic feet per second to 650 cubic feet per second would continue until May 31.

"This is the minimum flow required at Peachtree Creek confluence on the Chattahoochee River to provide for waste water assimilation on the river," said E. Patrick Robbins, a corps public affairs officer. The reduction at Peachtree Creek would conserve storage in Lake Lanier.

"In making this request, we have also assessed the effect of reduced flows on water temperatures in the river since May is the beginning of the period where rising temperatures would be expected to effect survival of trout in the designated trout waters below Buford Dam," wrote Carol Couch, director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division in an April 25 letter to the corps. She said the lower flow would not endanger trout survival.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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