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Round 2 of tri-state water hearings nears court
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Listen as Val Perry, executive vice president of the Lake Lanier Association, talks about the second phase of litigation involving Lake Lanier.

Memories of the two-year drought that drained Lake Lanier to a historic low are about to be revived in the courtroom.

Oral arguments could take place in June or July over the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ operation of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin — another thorny issue in Georgia’s ongoing water battle with Alabama and Florida.

Florida invoked the Endangered Species Act to force the corps to maintain higher flows during the 2007-09 drought to protect several threatened and endangered species in the Apalachicola River, which winds through the Panhandle to the Gulf of Mexico.

That set off a political barrage from Georgia, including Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who said he found it “unconscionable” the Sunshine State would “elevate the water needs of the bankclimber and fat three-ridge mussel over ... human beings.”

Legal briefs have been filed in the case.

The Gainesville-based Lake Lanier Association also has jumped into the fray, with its attorney, Clyde Morris, asking U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson to rule that the Endangered Species Act doesn’t require such high flows.

“All we’re saying is let’s do the right thing for everybody,” said Val Perry, executive vice president of the organization.

“It’s not just mussels first and doggone the rest of it. It’s let’s make sure we have a balanced approach to managing this whole system.”

Perry said he has concerns about the ruling, which could come in a few months after final arguments in Jacksonville, Fla.

“This judge has appeared not to be too strong in favor of Georgia,” he said.

In July 2009, Magnuson ruled that metro Atlanta’s water withdrawal was not an approved use for Lake Lanier, but scaling Gainesville’s usage back to 1970s levels.

Georgia has asked a federal appeals panel to overturn the ruling.

In December, the governors of Georgia, Alabama and Florida, after meeting privately in Montgomery, Ala., said they would solve the tri-state water war before their terms are over at the end of 2010.

The corps, meanwhile, is developing a water control manual for the three-river basin that is expected to be completed in three years, replacing one that was developed in 1958, or shortly after the formation of Lake Lanier.

“What we’re hoping is that as they look at their new ... plan, they be sure they take into consideration Lake Lanier, the people and the economic benefit here — and the safety (issues) when you drain this lake,” Perry said.

Florida’s Apalachicola Riverkeeper, in a letter to the corps, also has expressed its interests in preserving a basin rich in farmlands, forests and coastal estuaries.

“The combinations of this unique natural environmental, cultural and economically important area are of national, regional and local significance,” said Dan Tonsmeire, the organization’s riverkeeper.