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ACF basin group set to meet Thursday in Albany
Wilton Rooks
ACF Stakeholders
Here are a few basics if you plan to attend the governing board’s first meeting:
When: Begins at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, could end at 4 or 5 p.m.
Where: Hilton Garden Inn, 101 S. Front St., Albany

Finding common ground is the mission of a group set to meet Thursday to discuss issues concerning the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basin, an area that includes Lake Lanier.

"We’ll see if this group can organize to deal with issues that will benefit everybody on the ACF basin," said Wilton Rooks, interim president of the ACF Stakeholders.

The group began forming in 2008 after various people with a vested interest in the basin became frustrated over the 18-year stalemate between Georgia, Florida and Alabama concerning water usage.

In August, 20 users of the rivers met to complete a charter and bylaws for what would become ACF Stakeholders, which has the motto "Working together to share a common resource."

Starting last Tuesday, charter members met in each of the four subbasins — the ACF stretches from Northeast Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico — to select governing board member representatives who will meet for the first time Thursday in Albany.

"That’s when the real proof of the pudding comes into play," Rooks, an executive committee member for the Upper Chattahoochee subbasin, said at a Gainesville Kiwanis Club meeting last week.

"I don’t anticipate that meeting dealing with how much water the mussels need or how much water Lake Lanier needs or how they’re going to share the water," said Rooks, a Forsyth County resident. "That’s very presumptuous to believe we’ll get into any level of those

"I think if we did, we’d end up with the same problem the political and legal structures have had for 18 years. ... We’ve got to identify issues that will benefit everybody."

Rooks, also a vice president with the Lake Lanier Association, said the parties need to be concerned just about water conservation but also "efficient water."

"It doesn’t matter how much water you take out of the ACF basin. It’s how much water you put back that counts," he said. "If you can put back as close to all that you take out as possible, then everybody will benefit."

Thursday’s meeting is open to the public and will take place, starting at 9:30 a.m., at the Hilton Garden Inn on the Flint River. The meeting may end at 4 or 5 p.m.

One committee will be charged with looking at specific issues that the governing board will address, Rooks said.

The issue of water storage has been in and out of the courts for years, with U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson ruling in July that water withdrawal was never a congressionally authorized use of Lake Lanier.

The ruling gives Georgia three years to come up with a water-sharing plan with Alabama and Florida, stop using the reservoir for water consumption or have Congress reauthorize the lake’s use.

"We believe we have a broadly based, representative group that the powers that be — the states and the federal agencies — will want to listen to," Rooks has said.

The group has consensus as the rule for agreement, a standard that Rooks has said he believes will force the group "to look at issues that benefit everybody in the basin."

"We think there are some significant issues ... we can come to a consensus on that will influence the future management and utilization of the watershed."