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Senate passes water bill that doesn’t limit Lanier use

POSTED: May 16, 2013 12:05 a.m.

The U.S. Senate voted Wednesday to OK a water reauthorization bill that will not limit Georgia’s water use from Lake Lanier and Lake Allatoona, a restriction that had been sought by lawmakers in Alabama and Florida.

The body voted 83-14 to approve the Water Resources Development Act, which authorizes a number of water projects nationally, including the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project.

A long-running dispute between Georgia, Alabama and Florida over water-sharing in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, which includes Lake Lanier, spilled over into the water reauthorization bill.

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions backed language in the original bill that would have limited how much water metro Atlanta and North Georgia communities could take from two federal reservoirs without getting congressional approval.

Georgia Republican Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss had that restriction struck from the final version of the bill.

A joint statement from Isakson and Chambliss praised passage of the bill, but they did not refer to its potential impact on the lakes, which are governed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The legislation now goes to the House of Representatives, where Georgia’s members have been bracing for the worst.

“Concerns still remain regarding the current language (in the bill),” said Loree Ann Thompson, spokeswoman for Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville.

“We obviously appreciate what the Senate has done to make this language better, and we look forward to continuing this process as the bill proceeds over to the House chamber.”

Collins was among 12 of 14 Georgia House members who sent a letter Friday to House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee members Rep. Bill Shuster and Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, asking them to oppose “the inclusion of any similar language that could be viewed as taking sides in this interstate dispute.”

Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican, is the committee’s chairman, and Rahall, a West Virginia Democrat, is its ranking member.

The Georgia congressmen said they’re concerned about potential negative impacts on water supply in the ACF.

The congressmen said they were “very troubled” by sections dealing with dam “optimization” and water supply in the bill.

The water supply section “expresses concern that certain actions ... may raise questions about the (Army) secretary’s authority to provide water supply without seeking additional congressional authorization,” the letter states.

“While it appears the Senate intended only to express its concern that the secretary not be caught in the middle of an interstate dispute, this language could also be viewed as expressing support for the position of one state over the other,” the congressmen wrote.

The bill’s section concerning dams “has a similar effect by singling out water supply operations in the ACF and (Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa River Basin) for special limitations.

“In each case, this sets a dangerous precedent.”

In comments before the Senate’s vote, Collins said he believed that, long term, language in the bill “has the potential to have a major impact on Georgia’s economy.

“It is critical that Congress pass (the) bill that guides our national water infrastructure policy without getting into the middle of disputes between states,” he said.

Georgia, Alabama and Florida have been engaged in legal wrangling over water sharing in the ACF for more than two decades.

Georgia gained leverage last year when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a lower court appeal from Florida and Alabama on a decision that would have put limitations on water withdrawals from Lanier.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal “continues to discuss the issue with Alabama and Florida governors,” said Deal spokesman Brian Robinson.

Groups nationwide also reacted to the Senate’s passage of the bill.

“This vital piece of legislation touches every American in one way or another because it covers everything from the ports to safe drinking water, and the infrastructure used to move people, goods and ultimately, America’s economy,” said Bud Wright, executive director of American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

The bill “invests money in critical infrastructure projects that will create jobs, spur economic growth and enhance our nation’s economic competitiveness,” said Toby Mack, president & CEO of Associated Equipment Distributors, a Washington, D.C.-based international trade association.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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