By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
River systems at crux of state's dispute
Is water war over? Governors' agreement ends long struggle
Placeholder Image

The two river systems which serve the largest number of Georgians have suffered what most experts believe to be a record drought that has lingered for two years.

The Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa river systems have been the subject of a dispute that has lasted through the administrations of four Georgia governors, traveled through numerous court channels and been debated by several sets of negotiators.

Looking back, many past participants in the process said they thought the water war between Georgia, Florida and Alabama would have been resolved a decade ago.

Former attorney general Mike Bowers, former U.S. Rep. Lindsey Thomas and former Environmental Protection Director Harold Reheis all said there were times that a resolution to the differences between the states seemed within reach.

Even Gov. Sonny Perdue has said that he thought he had reached an agreement with Alabama over the ACT river basin. Perdue compared the scene to a wedding. "The church doors had been thrown open and we were ready to walk down the aisle," he said.

Alabama officials were due to fly to Georgia earlier this year and sign an agreement. The plane never left the ground. Last week, the Bush administration intervened and reached what appears to be the beginning of a deal, along with promises from the three governors to work things out by February.

The deal was brokered by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and other administration officials, including Jim Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Kempthorne, whose department also includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, became the first cabinet-level official to weigh in on the dispute.

"The current corps operating plan, in regard to drought, is inadequate," Kempthorne said, calling for a collaborative effort to come up with a new addendum to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' operating manuals for the river system.

He said attention needs to be give to both the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa river systems. He also said the new plan will be written by governors and then given to the corps. "This has to come from the states," he said.

On Thursday night, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the river systems, sent a proposal to the Fish and Wildlife Service for reducing the flow into the Apalachicola River.

Under the proposal, the flow would be reduced from 5,000 cubic feet per second to 4,200 cubic feet per second. The corps has proposed a staggered schedule, which it referred to as "ramping down" to reach the lower flow.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has promised that it will have an answer in 14 days, rather than the usual 135.

The other good news for Lake Lanier, the largest reservoir on the Chattahoochee, is that any rainfall that comes will be kept in the lake rather than sent downstream.

The drought and the river dispute has reach an intensity not seen in the 17 years since the first skirmish erupted between Alabama and Georgia. After weeks of firing at each other, the governors emerged from their closed door session with Kempthorne minus the tension that had been evident before.

"Failure is not an option this time," Gov. Bob Riley of Alabama said. "We are in the middle of the most severe drought we've ever had."

"These are shared problems and they're going to require shared solutions," Perdue said. "Since water is the essence of life, we simply have to plan for these contingencies. Unfortunately, we find ourselves challenged to the point now where we have to make some tough decisions."