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Group moves forward on water study, albeit in secret
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Water sharing study

What: ACF Stakeholders get an update on a study of water flows in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basin.

When: Wednesday-Thursday

Where: Apalachicola, Fla.

Contact: 229-894-0168,

The Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Stakeholders soldiers on, but behind closed doors.

The group, which is paying for a data-driven study of the river basin that includes Lake Lanier, plans to follow through on a December vote by members to keep findings secret when it meets again Wednesday and Thursday in Apalachicola, Fla.

The group’s governing board expects to hear from Georgia Tech’s Georgia Water Resources Institute on the study’s progress, as well as other technical information, with those parts of the meeting closed to the public.

“We won’t be able to be as open as we were in the past,” said James N. McClatchey, governing board chairman, in an interview last week.

The ACF Stakeholders has tried to clamp down on information since Florida filed suit in the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 1, alleging increased water consumption by Georgia had limited flows into Apalachicola Bay and wrecked the oyster industry.

“Because of the lawsuit, we put into place certain confidentiality requirements that all our membership is now obligated to,” McClatchey said.

The group includes people with a wide range of interests, including water quality, recreation and the seafood industry, from throughout the basin, which straddles Florida, Alabama and Georgia. Wilton Rooks of the Gainesville-based Lake Lanier Association was one of the original members and is an executive committee member.

Florida and Alabama have rejected a tri-state agreement that would have bound them to confidentiality.

John P. Heekin, assistant general counsel to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, sent a Dec. 12 letter, and David B. Byrne Jr., chief legal adviser to Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, a Dec. 16 letter, to the organization rejecting a “memorandum of understanding.”

Heekin said Florida’s denial comes “as we pursue our claims against Georgia in the U.S. Supreme Court and elsewhere.”

Alabama’s letter doesn’t cite why it won’t sign the agreement.

Jud Turner, director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, said Gov. Nathan Deal was open to the agreement and without all the governors on board, “the future of the ACF Stakeholder group is called into question during the litigation between the states.”

The Supreme Court action draws out what has been a 20-year water-sharing conflict between the three states, often referred to as “water wars.” Much of the debate has focused on Lake Lanier, which serves as the main drinking water source for metro Atlanta.

The ACF Stakeholders was officially formed in 2009, largely in response to the bickering among the states.

The group’s hope has been to produce water-sharing recommendations that it could present to the states and the Army Corps of Engineers, which governs Lake Lanier and is working on a water control manual update for the basin.

“I’m ever the optimist,” McClatchey said. “I hope we can have a first draft of a sustainable water management plan by the end of June.”