The states of Alabama and Florida have not implemented regional water restrictions along the Chattahoochee and Apalachicola river basins. The distinction was noted in a letter Thursday to the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"It simply defies logic to think that, were the good Lord to bless the state of Georgia with much-needed water, this (Interim Operating Plan) would require it to be released from Georgia for the benefit of a handful of mussels and sturgeon downstream," wrote the 15 members of the Georgia congressional delegation.
Alabama and Georgia lawmakers have clashed over the drought, with Alabama accusing Georgia of withholding water from both the Chattahoochee and Coosa Rivers.
U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., took issue with a bill introduced this week by Georgia’s congressional delegation giving the U.S. Secretary of the Army or the governor the authority to seek a suspension of the Endangered Species Act.
"While I agree that in cases of extreme drought, the welfare of our citizens should be the highest priority, I do have concerns about the impact this legislation might have on drought-stricken areas in Alabama," Shelby said. "If decisions to reduce water flow are left to the will of one state’s governor, there could be significant negative consequences for states that are downstream."
In a number of Alabama municipalities along the river, such as Eufaula, the city relies on deep wells to provide drinking water, despite the fact that the city is surrounded by a lake on the Chattahoochee.
"As far as actual water supply for households, the city of Eufaula relies upon a system of wells that reaches into the Tuscaloosa Aquifer," said Eufaula Mayor Jay Jaxon Jr. "We are not affected as far as drinking water at this point, but understand there are other cities in this area that are under restrictions."
Among them, Smiths Station, Ala., northwest of Columbus and Phenix City. There, the city, which relies on water from the Chattahoochee, has a Monday through Friday, odd-even watering system, with a ban on the weekend.
"We’ve pretty much been enforcing that for a couple of years," said a spokeswoman for the Smiths Station water department.
But in Eufaula, Jaxon is not without worries. To the north of his city is MeadWestvaco, a paper mill that produces coated papers for cereal boxes and frozen food packages.
The plant, which has its own intake in the Chattahoochee, is within a foot of river elevation requiring a switch to alternate pumps.
"Our main concern with the drought and the river basin is the low level and flow," Jaxon said. "These two factors especially effect MeadWestvaco. Obviously if they get to a point where they don’t have sufficient water resources, you have several hundred people out of a job."
The plant employs about 750 people and is a major employer in an area that has lost jobs to foreign countries.
Another concern to the south is the Joseph M. Farley Nuclear Plant near Dothan, Ala. The plant is owned by Southern Co., the parent of Georgia Power.
Operations there require a minimum river flow of 2,000 cubic feet per second on the Chattahoochee. The plant draws 80 to 120 million gallons of water from the river and discharges between 40 and 103 million gallons back into the river.
Alyson Fuqua, a spokeswoman for Southern Nuclear, a subsidiary of Southern Co., said the company is closely watching the river.
"Southern Nuclear and Plant Farley personnel are very aware of all of the challenges surrounding the drought," Fuqua said. "We are working closely with the Corps of Engineers to see that the situation is being managed the best way possible and that Plant Farley will continue to be able to operate."
As for Eufaula, Ala., the mayor says that the biggest loss from the drought may be visitors to the scenic community.
"From a recreational point of view, low lake levels translate into less tourism, which effects all of the hospitality and service industry.