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Deal encouraged by early talks in water war
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ATLANTA - Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said Monday he plans to focus on Alabama in trying to resolve a two-decade, tri-state water dispute, but he also said his home state must take its owns steps to help solve the water woes.

Speaking to the members of his water supply task force at their first meeting Monday, Deal said he believed issues between Alabama and Georgia may be easier to resolve than the issues involving Florida, but he did not elaborate.

"We have had preliminary discussions, and we are encouraged by those discussions," Deal said of talks with Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
"But I don't think we can simply wait for those issues to resolve themselves in any format, either in the courts or through the negotiation process," Deal said. "There are things we have to do with the resources we have and the things we have jurisdiction over."

Georgia's neighbors have argued that metro Atlanta takes too much water from Lake Lanier, the main water supply for about 3 million people in the metro area. The states say too little water is left for people and businesses downstream and harm shellfish beds fed by Florida's Apalachicola River, which is formed by the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers. A federal judge's ruling that would severely restrict Atlanta's ability to take water from the lake is set to take effect in July 2012 unless the leaders of Georgia, Alabama and Florida negotiate a settlement ending the water rights dispute.

The states have been involved in multiple lawsuits over regional water use. Alabama is seeking more water for the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa river basin, which flows through Georgia and Alabama. It's also a party to the Georgia-Alabama-Florida fight over the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin.

Deal has proposed spending $300 million over four years to build and expand reservoirs and fund water planning by local governments. He has also charged his water supply task force with guiding the development and implementation of his water supply program.

"I do not want us to get in the business of being the water czars of the state," Deal told the task force. "I think that would be a mistake. I think we need to make sure that local communities have the buy-in."

The state's role, he said, should be to help with planning and upfront resources to get projects going with input from local communities on new projects, such as reservoirs. The state has put off beginning this process for far too long, he said.

Kevin Clark, executive director of the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority, which is set to manage the implementation of the water supply program, said the task force plans to examine a wide variety of options with a statewide scope to find new water supplies.

Technology and finance subcommittees are set to meet several times over the coming months, as will the full task force, with a goal of presenting a water supply plan to the governor by late October or early November. There will be plenty of opportunities for public input throughout the process, Clark said.