An official with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the amount of water taken from Lake Lanier could be reduced pending the outcome of a study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service due next month.
Maj. Daren Payne, deputy director of the Mobile, Ala., district of the corps, said the final report on the study should be ready by mid-November.
"We’re doing a new biological assessment and may find that we can lower these levels without doing irreversible harm to the mussels," Payne said.
The corps announced Oct. 12 that it was increasing flows from Buford Dam on Lanier to 2,600 cubic feet per second in order to meet a mandated flow of 5,000 cubic feet per second from Woodruff Dam on Lake Seminole, which empties into the Apalachicola River.
The higher flow has been mandated by the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect two species of mussels and one species of sturgeon in the river.
Payne said the corps has provided boats and other support to the Fish and Wildlife Service for the study.
While Georgia’s federal lawmakers have criticized the corps’ lack of action, Payne said Sam Hamilton, regional director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, has been talking on a daily basis with Gen. Joe Schroedel, director of the South Atlantic division of the corps.
Payne said the flow from Lanier on Monday was 1,292 cubic feet per second.
Meanwhile, the director of the Georgia Water Resource Institute at Georgia Tech said flows can be taken even lower.
Aris Georgakakos said the demand for the city of Atlanta on a peak summer day is 400 to 500 cubic feet per second, and he contends the flow from Buford Dam can be lowered without environmental repercussions.
"If we get to the level of 1,035 (feet) for Lake Lanier, the water supply service to many communities and industries will be interrupted," Georgakakos said. "The
requirement to release so much water from Lanier is not substantiated technically. It doesn’t make any sense in a significant drought."
The state of Georgia filed a motion last week in U.S. District Court in Florida seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the corps from taking higher amounts of water from Lanier.
That action was followed on Saturday with Gov. Sonny Perdue declaring a state of emergency in 85 Georgia counties and asking President Bush to declare the region a federal disaster area.
In a four-page letter to Bush, Perdue asks the president to use a provision of the Endangered Species Act to suspend enforcement of the act in order to reduce the flow into the Apalachicola and, in turn, from Lanier.
Perdue’s request to Bush raised the ire of Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, who sent his own letter to the president on Monday asking him to reject Georgia’s disaster request.
In his letter, Riley writes that Georgia sees the water dispute "as a contest between people in the Atlanta area and endangered mussels in Florida."
He said the action Georgia seeks would have dire consequences for Alabama, accusing the state of ignoring the water needs of the Farley nuclear power plant, near Dothan.
Riley also took issue with Georgia’s contention that Lake Lanier has a less than 90-day supply of water.
"Lake Lanier has enough water to supply the needs of Atlanta and to maintain current levels of downstream flow support for over 260 more days, and that assumes that there will not be a single drop of rain during that period," wrote Riley.
The letter was addressed to Bush and copied to White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.
Meanwhile, Perdue’s declaration of an emergency has activated an advisory panel of agencies with expertise in disaster planning to address potential emergency situations that may arise due to drought conditions. The panel, called the Drought Response Unified Command group, includes the Environmental Protection Division, Georgia Emergency Management Agency, the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority and the Division of Public Health.
Charley English, director of the state’s emergency management agency, said his department has begun preparations much as it would for a hurricane or other natural disaster.
GEMA is forming contingency plans for providing water in the event of sporadic outages.
"There is no way to replace a distribution system that has a water tap in every home and business," English said. "That’s why its so important that the governor has called upon the corps to stop draining the water."