Local officials are pleased that the governors of Georgia, Alabama and Florida, after meeting privately Tuesday in Montgomery, Ala., say they will solve the tri-state water war before their terms are over at the end of 2010.
“I think that’s the best news we’ve heard in some time,” said State Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville.
Rogers said setting a time frame is a great first step, especially with gubernatorial elections looming in the near future.
Wilton Rooks, who chairs the executive committee of a tri-state water basin group, also said he is encouraged the governors have set the timetable for agreement.
“I hope it will be an open and public process,” Rooks said. “... The timeline seems certainly doable and not overly aggressive.”
Emerging from a private meeting that lasted nearly two hours, the governors provided no details, but all expressed optimism that after nearly two decades, a solution can be found.
“Of course, like in most things, the devil’s in the details and we’re not quite sure what these details are going to look like,” said Rooks, an officer in the ACF Stakeholders, making up interested parties in the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint rivers basin.
The three Republican governors also predicted success at their last meeting, held December 2007 in Tallahassee, Fla., but the conflict grew even testier and court rulings generally went against the interests of Georgia.
This time, they said, the outlook is different, partly because of a tight timetable before all three turn over their jobs to new state chief executives.
“We only have so much time left as governors of our respective states to accomplish this mission, and that’s why we are as optimistic as we are that it’s going to happen,” Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said.
Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue said having a deadline fosters cooperation.
“We agree that it would be shameful, frankly, if we let the learning curve that we have been on and learned about transfer to another generation of elected leaders,” he said.
Terms of office are not the only deadline facing the governors.
In July, federal Judge Paul Magnuson ruled that withdrawing water from Lake Lanier for consumption was not a congressionally authorized use of the lake. According to court officials, the lake’s original purpose was to serve as a source for hydroelectric power.
The judge gave Georgia until 2012 to either have Congress revamp the uses of the lake, stop using withdrawals from the lake for water consumption or to renegotiate a deal with Florida and Alabama.
“I think the judge’s ruling is making all three (governors) move in a positive direction,” Rogers said.
Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said negotiating teams from each state will work out details of water apportionment and conservation. Then the governors plan to present the plan to their state legislatures in the spring for approval. From there, the plan will go to Congress for approval before year’s end.
“If we do that, I think each one of us can look back and say this was a successful venture that took too long, but we ultimately crossed the goal line,” Riley said.
State Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, said he is pleased the politicians were able to follow through with their plans to sit down together and work through the issues.
“I am pleased to see there are substantive negotiations going on. That was what was promised,” Collins said. “Hopefully all parties are dealing in good faith to get a workable solution and not just one that simply is a move to protect their own self-interest.”
Rooks said he also hopes the governors will “incorporate the interests of the stakeholders as well, as they go about their deliberations.”
The meeting between the three governors comes after congressional leaders from the involved states met in October to pen a letter urging the states’ top leaders to begin the discussions concerning the future of water usage from the lake.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.