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Collins forms group to reform Corps of Engineers

POSTED: April 2, 2013 12:29 a.m.

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, has created a congressional caucus to focus on local and national water issues, including lake levels, drinking water supplies and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulations.

One of the key issues for the Corps of Engineers Reform Caucus will be lake levels and keeping them as high as possible, Collins’ office said.

The 9th District congressman will start to recruit members to the caucus when Congress comes back into session next week. The caucus had to be approved, which happened last week, before it can get participants.

The caucus also intends to focus on national water and infrastructure projects handled by the corps.

Collins toured Buford Dam last week with corps officials and met with community leaders, including Joanna Cloud, executive director of the Lake Lanier Association.

“Congress needs to transform the high-spending, low-transparency Corps into a responsive and fiscally responsive agency,” Collins said in a news release.

The central issue the caucus will focus on is lake levels, said Jason O’Rouke, Collins’ legislative aide for transportation and infrastructure. Local stakeholders talked in last week’s meeting about the impact to Lake Lanier from fluctuations.

Lanier, operated by the corps, was built in the 1950s and has more than 692 miles of shoreline. The corps monitors and makes decisions on lake levels based on the reasons Lanier was built, which include flood control, water quality and supply, recreation and fish and wildlife management, the agency website said.

The problem with fluctuations is the negative impact on the lake and the properties around the lake, Cloud said.

It creates silt runoff into the lake that can reduce water storage capacity and water quality.

It also presents a challenge for individual docks and marina owners because they have to let their docks out.

“That’s no small task,” Cloud said. “It’s quite a bit of a hassle, bringing it up and down.”

It will help to have a federal caucus to have a dialogue with the corps, Cloud said.

“The caucus could influence the Corps of Army Engineers to make (lake levels) part of their evaluation criteria of how they operate the lake,” she said.

The corps’ water control manual, policies and laws for water management for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basin would have to be changed. A draft Water Control Manual for the basin was issued March 1 that is expected to be finalized by the end of the year.

Patrick Robbins, corps’ Mobile District chief of public affairs, said keeping lake levels stable mostly depends on the weather.

However, the corps does release water from Lanier downstream into the ACF basin to protect endangered species or to supply drinking water to the city of Atlanta.

“There’s multiple purposes you have to release water for,” Robbins said.

Alabama, Florida and Georgia have spent decades fighting over the flow of water from Lanier through the Chattahoochee River to the Gulf of Mexico. There are at least 35 states dealing with similar water supply issues, Collins said in his statement. The agency’s red tape means higher costs for taxpayers and project construction delays.

“In addition, the Corps constantly undertakes new projects before completing ongoing construction,” Collins said. “As a result, the Corps has a construction backlog estimated at more than $60 billion.”

The caucus is the first step to drafting legislation, O’Rouke said.


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