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Florida battling water group over basin document
State has 'continuing disagreement with ACF Stakeholders'
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In its ongoing “water wars” with Georgia, Florida is having a skirmish of its own with a private tri-state water group that has developed a plan of managing the long-contested waters straddling the states.

Most of those that were subpoenaed have worked with Florida to provide requested documents, according to a Florida brief filed Friday in the U.S. Supreme Court. “However, Florida has a continuing disagreement with ACF Stakeholders.”

The Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Stakeholders, which was founded in 2009, released its 130-page Sustainable Water Management Plan earlier this year. The document is a data-driven study of how Georgia, Florida and Alabama should best share waters in the rivers’ basin, which includes Lake Lanier.

The group “has objected to producing any of their underlying hydrologic modeling efforts and associated data, citing confidentiality concerns,” states the Florida filing.

Further, ACFS has told Florida that other parties, including Georgia Water Resources Institute, may have such material, Florida says.

The institute, a nonprofit organization based out of Georgia Tech, was one of ACFS’ contractors in producing the management plan.

Florida says it is trying to get the information from other parties.

“We hope to either resolve these issues or bring them to the special master,” the filing states.

ACFS’ chairwoman, Betty Webb, who also serves as the group’s spokeswoman, declined to comment on Florida’s filing.

“I do not feel (the group) should make any comment on this issue given that it is ongoing litigation,” she said.

Before issuing the water plan, the stakeholders kept details under wraps — to the extent of closing meetings that were otherwise open to the public. Members signed confidentiality agreements.

But that hadn’t always been the case.

The group hashed out most of its business in public until Florida filed suit in the Supreme Court in the fall of 2013. At the time, members said they were concerned their data might be used as fodder in litigation between the states.

Florida has charged that Georgia’s “overconsumption” of water is creating economic hardship, particularly on the oyster industry in Apalachicola Bay.

Ironically, as part of its mission, the ACFS hopes to get Florida, Alabama and Georgia — as well as the Army Corps of Engineers — to buy into its management plan.

“There is no need for the states to approve the plan,” Webb has said. “We hope they will embrace it and move forward with us.”

Drawing up the plan has cost $1.7 million, with money donated by residents, companies, organizations and foundations.

Brian Robinson, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s spokesman, has declined to respond to the plan.

“We can’t comment on these topics at this time per the special master,” he has said.

Robinson was referring to instructions from Ralph I. Lancaster, a lawyer from Portland, Maine, who was appointed by the Supreme Court to oversee the case between Georgia and Florida.

Pat Robbins, spokesman for the corps’ Mobile District, which oversees projects in the ACF basin, has said the corps would expect the stakeholders to submit the plan when the corps seeks public input on its draft water control manual revisions and accompanying environmental impact statement for the ACF.

Florida and Alabama also have been silent.

To the best of his knowledge, ACFS “has not received any official responses from the states or the corps ... at this time,” said Webb, who is city administrator in Apalachicola, Fla.

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