A group seeking solutions to the water-sharing wars between Georgia, Florida and Alabama is taking its first significant steps toward that goal.
The ACF Stakeholders plans to soon begin working with universities in Georgia, Florida and Alabama, and hire consultants to help determine the best way to manage the resource the three states struggle to share.
The group also plans to look into the feasibility of raising the full pool level of Lake Lanier by 2 feet.
The decisions are the first signs of progress for the newly formed stakeholders group, which rounded out its second year together in meetings at Lake Lanier Islands earlier this week.
And they are signs that the group doesn't plan to be taken lightly.
Made up of stakeholders from all ends of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin, the ACF Stakeholders seeks to find a water-sharing solution that all can agree on outside of court.
The group works by consensus, meaning one "no" vote defeats a proposal before the group.
"Everything we do is 100 percent unanimous," said Wilton Rooks, a member of the group's executive committee.
Government leaders in the three states have been tied up in litigation for years over rights to water flowing through the basin.
As of this week, consulting firm Atkins and another, Black and Veatch, have been brought on by the ACF Stakeholders to help the group begin developing what it says will be a sustainable water management plan for the basin.
Water in the basin is controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which controls the water's every move from a series of dams starting at Lake Lanier and ending at Jim Woodruff Dam in Chattahoochee, Fla.
In the coming months, Atkins will begin work on a project that will assess stream flows throughout the basin to determine how the ecological systems in the region operate best. The information will be used in the larger project to explore alternative management plans for the river system that will best serve all the stakeholders, Rooks said.
"The hope for that process is that we will come up with management alternatives that will result in more efficient use of the water that we've got in the basin," Rooks said.
At the moment, Rooks said the initial phases of the project are expected to last between a year and a year and a half, but details have yet to be determined.
So far, the group has committed $50,000 to the initial phases of the project, but is embarking on a campaign to raise $1 million to complete the study and hire an executive director, Rooks said.
Part of its search for solutions will be an effort to involve four universities from Georgia, Florida and Alabama to discover other approaches to manage the basin.
Involved would be the University of Georgia, the University of Florida, Florida State University and Auburn University in Alabama.
As the group begins to explore management of the water system, members are also beginning to seriously consider a plan to raise the full pool level of Lake Lanier. The group formed this week is made up of representatives from each of the three states and will establish project goals, constraints and methods for proceeding with the prospect of raising the lake's level, Rooks said.
"It's not just kicking the can down the road, it's actually putting some plans for a work group to get started on it," Rooks said.
The group's next meeting will be held in the Flint River basin in early December.
"The real takeaway from the meeting was that this diverse group of water users in all three states are working together to share a common resource," Rooks said. "That is our byline and we are pleased that it still informs our decision process."