The governors of Georgia, Alabama and Florida are all preparing to lend their voices to the tri-state water rights discussions.
The trio is expected to meet in Montgomery, Ala., on Dec. 15.
“The negotiations themselves are not open to the public. This is officially a court-ordered mediation of a lawsuit,” said Burt Brantley, communications director for Gov. Sonny Perdue’s office.
“This means that the three governors will meet, negotiate and hopefully make some progress (towards reaching an agreement).”
In July, federal Judge Paul Magnuson ruled that withdrawing water from Lake Lanier for consumption was not a congressionally authorized use of the lake. According to court officials, the lake’s original purpose was to serve as a source for hydroelectric power.
The judge gave Georgia until 2012 to either have Congress revamp the uses of the lake, stop using withdrawals from the lake for water consumption or to renegotiate a deal with Florida and Alabama.
The upcoming meeting between the three governors comes after congressional leaders from the involved states met in October to pen a letter urging the states’ top leaders to begin the discussions concerning the future of water usage from the lake.
According to Sterling Ivey, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s press secretary, the trio has been “working to set a meeting that works for all three governors” and Dec. 15 was decided to be the best available time.
Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, said he hopes the governors can make the meeting a reality after similar past efforts fell through.
“I think it’s a wonderful move and I hope it does come about,” Collins said. “I am hopeful that this date will be kept and that there will be meaningful discussions when they sit down.”
Judge Magnuson set out in his ruling a period of three years for Congress to make a decision on the water issues between the three states, something Collins thinks will never happen without direction from the governors.
“The executive branches of Georgia, Florida and Alabama have got to be the starting point hammering out a deal that is acceptable so that in turn each of the governors can go to their congressional delegations,” Collins said.
“This is not something Congress is going to solve ... with all the different things going on in the United States Congress right now, unfortunately our water wars are not a top priority among the 435 members (of the U.S. House of Representatives) and 100 members of the Senate as a whole.”
Dec. 15 will mark the first time in two years that the governors of the three states have had face-to-face meetings concerning water rights. “It should have been done a long time ago and hopefully all three of them can sit down and try to work through this situation we’re all in,” said State Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville.
Rogers said he hopes the meeting between the three heads of state will be one that is productive and moves toward a solution to the states’ water issues.
“That’s the best way to do it. Just face to face,” Rogers said. “Hopefully the attorneys won’t disrupt the meeting.”
Because this is the first meeting in a while, Brantley says it would be a bit “ambitious” to think that the governors would be able to reach an agreement at the end of the initial mediation session. However, Brantley believes that the three will be able to eventually reach an agreement that meets the needs of all three states.
“This is vitally important to the state of Georgia and especially those regions that are more impacted by Judge Magnuson’s ruling,” said State Sen. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville. “The judge has given us a July 2012 deadline that is rapidly approaching. I applaud our governor for arranging this meaning with the respective governors of Alabama and Florida and I truly wish they find common ground to solve this problem for the citizens of all three states.”