Gov. Sonny Perdue and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar took a helicopter tour over Lake Lanier to discuss Georgia’s water needs Wednesday.
Salazar said in an interview with The Times that he felt the meeting was "very constructive."
"I think the governor of Georgia has rightly pointed to the value of Lake Lanier to Georgia and the Southeastern part of the country," Salazar said.
Salazar said he told Perdue that he would be willing to help facilitate an agreement between Georgia, Florida and Alabama in their dispute over who has the rights to water from rivers and lakes that span the three states.
The Atlanta region relies on the lakes for drinking water, while Florida and Alabama depend on flows downstream for commercial fisheries, farms, industrial users and cities. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is also is required to release adequate flows to ensure the survival of endangered species.
"I think he also made his clear statement that he believes it’s better to resolve the conflicts with Florida and Alabama through an agreement rather than spending money down the rat hole of endless litigation. I very much agree with him and told him as I will tell the other governors that we are happy to help if there is any role we can play that would be constructive in ending the 16 year dispute," Salazar said.
Salazar will meet with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist today.
Obama released a statement during his presidential campaign that he would make protecting Florida’s Apalachicola River and Bay a priority. But Salazar said the president is not siding with Florida in the water war.
"The president and I will work to fix problems. The president is president for all the United States of America, including Georgia. He very much recognizes that, which is part of the reason why I’m down here in Georgia," Salazar said.
Perdue mentioned his meeting with Salazar at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Laurel Park Boat Ramp.
"I think the secretary of the Interior was very impressed by what he saw today. He was impressed by the management efforts of Georgia, known to conserve water and conserve the beautiful assets we have here. Secretary Salazar was a former attorney general in Colorado that helped negotiate ... between two other states there," Perdue said. "He’s a hands on kind of guy, he’s a roll up your sleeves and get it done, common sense kind of guy. He understands that litigation on water issues are not long-term solutions and it’s best for the states to come together and work together for long-term mutual beneficial solutions."