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Perdue to discuss suit against corps this morning

Georgia sues corps over Lanier releases

POSTED: October 24, 2007 5:03 a.m.

ATLANTA -- Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue on Friday asked a Florida federal judge to force the Army Corps of Engineers to curb the amount of water draining from Georgia reservoirs into Alabama and Florida.

Perdue has scheduled a press at 10:30 a.m. today at Mary Alice Park on Lake Lanier to discuss the drought. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and members of Georgia's congressional delegation are expected to attend.

"I commend Governor Perdue for taking the necessary steps to protect our drinking water and we urge the court to consider the emergency nature of this situation and act swiftly," Cagle said in a statement issued Friday. "Georgians can be confident that we will not stand by while our lakes are drained of water. Protecting the citizens of our state far outweighs protecting mussels and sturgeon."

Meanwhile, Carol Couch, director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, is drafting proposals for more water restrictions.

State officials warn that Lake Lanier, which supplies more than 3 million residents with water, is already less than three months from depletion. Smaller reservoirs are dropping even lower, forcing local governments to consider rationing.

Gainesville city officials discussed ways to spare the waning water supply at Thursday's work session. Horace Gee, environmental services administrator for Gainesville, advised council members of a possible proposal by Couch to force local utilities to cut their water usage by a certain percentage.

Couch's proposal leaves the decision on where to cut usage in the hands of local authorities. Gee said the council should be prepared to make a decision about where to restrict water usage within a week. In her speech Wednesday, Couch specifically mentioned water usage in Gainesville's poultry industry, Gee said, but he insisted that the decision will be up to the council.

But state water managers say there is more water available in the lake's reserves, though tapping into it would require the use of barges, emergency pumps and longer water lines. And some lawmakers fear if the lake is drained that low, it may be impossible to refill.

The corps, which manages the water in the region, stresses there's no reason to think Atlanta will soon run out of water.

"We're so far away from that, nobody's doing a contingency plan," said Major Daren Payne, the deputy commander of the Corps' Mobile office. "Quite frankly, there's enough water left to last for months. We've got a serious drought, there's no doubt about it, anytime you deplete your entire storage pool and tap into the reserve."

But, he said, any calls to stockpile bottled water would be "very premature."

On Thursday, John Paul Woodley, assistant to Secretary of the Army Peter Geren, notified Georgia's two U.S. senators that the Corps of Engineers would begin updating its plan for the drought-ravaged Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa river system. U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss said Thursday's action will help in the long run, but there is a more immediate need.

"Georgia still faces a dire situation with regard to our short-term water supply," Chambliss said. "I urge the corps to take the necessary steps to ensure that Georgians have access to water in both the short- and long-term, and we will continue to hold their feet to the fire on this."

"An 80-day supply of water is an imminent threat to our region and that's what we have left in Lake Lanier," said U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. "The entire Georgia delegation is united, Democrat, Republican, urban, rural, in our fight to see that the Corps of Engineers is held accountable for what's happening in the Chattahoochee River and the releases that are taking place."

In June 2006, the state of Georgia sued the corps over its operating plan which calls for the imprudent releases of water from Georgia's reservoirs at levels which threaten Georgia's human population and do not have scientific justification for the downstream endangered species.



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