Both of Georgia’s senators introduced four pieces of legislation to help the state meet its water needs as it continues to battle with Alabama and Florida about how to share water.
The bills correspond to requests made earlier in the year for the Water Resources Development Act reauthorization by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Sen. Johnny Isakson and Sen. Saxby Chambliss decided to announce the legislation ideas Thursday.
“Since it doesn’t look like the committee will take up the WRDA bill until the next Congress, Sen. Isakson felt it was important to introduce separate legislation,” said Sheridan Watson, Isakson’s press secretary. “As the three governors prepare to leave office in the coming months, Sen. Isakson wanted to let Georgians know that he and Sen. Chambliss have not forgotten about the need for Congressional authorization.”
After decades of arguments between Georgia, Alabama and Florida over who has rights to the water along the Chattahoochee River, U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson said in July 2009 he will severely restrict metro Atlanta’s use of Lake Lanier in 2012 unless political leaders in the three states reach a deal or Congress authorizes it.
“Sens. Chambliss and Isakson have been working on this specific issue since Judge Magnuson’s ruling, and on the dispute in general for over a decade,” said Ashley Nelson, Chambliss’ press secretary. “It is important to continue this dialogue because this issue will remain with us regardless of the outcome of any election. We need to make sure we are on track to meet Judge Magnuson’s deadline.”
The first piece of legislation, S.3910, would authorize the Army Corps of Engineers to include the effects of current and future water supply withdrawals from Lake Lanier in the update of the water control manual for the Apalachicola- Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin. The Corps does not currently include water supply withdrawals in the update of the manual.
The second piece of legislation, S.13, would allow cities and counties that withdraw water from a federal reservoir to subtract the amount of water they return to the reservoir from their total withdrawal. Local governments don’t currently receive any credit for the treated water they return.
The third piece of legislation, S.12, would authorize Lake Lanier for the purpose of municipal and industrial water supply.
This directly relates to Magnuson’s ruling that Lake Lanier wasn’t authorized to provide the metro Atlanta area’s water supply and the Corps has been illegally reallocating water from Lake Lanier to meet metro Atlanta’s water needs.
The fourth piece of legislation, S.3911, would authorize both Lake Lanier and Lake Allatoona to be used for municipal and industrial water supplies.
Gainesville currently returns about 7 million gallons per day, said Kelly Randall, the city’s director of public utilities.
“Of the four pieces of legislation, this one is absolutely necessary and needs to be worked out,” Randall said. “I’m surprised and pleased at their efforts with these ideas and wish them the best of luck for all four proposals. It would be extremely helpful.”
Val Perry, executive vice president of the Lake Lanier Association, was also excited about the proposed legislation.
“We agree with what they’ve said here. It’s foolish that water withdrawal isn’t in the corps manual. The corps has been asked by everybody to do that,” he said. “The arithmetic also makes sense here. All these cities take out water and put back clean water. They should get credit.”
The Lake Lanier Association also agrees with the last two pieces of legislation but thinks recreational use should be added in as a purpose of the lake. With about 8 million visitors per year, it’s a large contributor of jobs and economic success in northeast Georgia, he said.
“What the senators have done is put into legal and official status all the things we and they have been looking at for years,” Perry said. “I think Florida and Alabama will fight it, but it’s a wake up call to the states to get it solved. We can’t go back to 1970s water levels.”