U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, a Republican candidate for governor, commended Gov. Sonny Perdue’s most recent attempt to resume water negotiations with the governors of Alabama and Florida.
Perdue sent a letter inviting Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to a summit in Atlanta to hash out a deal over federal water rights.
In his letter, Perdue offered governors Crist and Riley a choice of 40 potential dates between Aug. 12 and Nov. 5 to try to settle the regional tug-of-war over federal water rights.
It’s the latest round in the gamesmanship among the governors after a federal judge’s ruling earlier this month found Georgia had few rights to Lake Lanier, the massive federal reservoir that supplies Gainesville and most of metro Atlanta’s water.
In a statement released Thursday, Deal applauded Perdue’s attempt at negotiations and said he has also approached the three states’ congressional delegations about a permanent legislative solution.
Deal said he plans to visit communities within the Chattahoochee and Flint River basins in Georgia during the August congressional recess to hear community members’ views on how to move forward.
"This is the right move for all three states," said Deal. "The timetable mandated in the federal court order does not afford us an opportunity to delay the work on resolving the tri-state water issues."
The three-year deadline ordered by U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson has sent Georgia officials scrambling to search for a solution. Perdue has argued the legal fight is a national issue, but he sought again to broker a compromise with the neighboring states as a framework for a deal.
"Water issues have dominated the headlines in recent days, and I have read statements from both of you that indicate your willingness to resume water negotiations," Perdue wrote.
He added: "I have always believed that a negotiated settlement that protects the rights and resources of all three states is the most lasting solution."
Crist’s office said late Thursday it was reviewing the request.
Riley said he is pleased and accepts the invitation.
"I look forward to scheduling a meeting as soon as possible," he said.
Riley also has issued his own dispatch that warned utility giant Southern Co. to stay out of the tri-state war.
He sent a letter to company CEO David Ratcliffe on Wednesday saying he was surprised to learn that the head of Southern subsidiary Georgia Power was leading a Georgia "impact team" formed by Perdue to work on the state’s strategy in the dispute, including lobbying Congress.
Riley said having Georgia Power align with Georgia’s interests is "counterproductive."
"This sort of out-front advocacy is only likely to harden the negotiating positions of the states," Riley wrote.
Southern Co. owns Georgia Power, Alabama Power and northwest Florida’s Gulf Power, putting it in a tricky position as the states fight over rivers they share. The utilities are among the region’s largest water users.
Spokeswoman Valerie Holpp said Southern Co. had no comment on the letter.
Alabama, Florida and Georgia have been fighting for 20 years over rivers they share. Georgia wants to hold more water back in federal reservoirs such as Lake Lanier to use as drinking water for the fast-growing Atlanta region.
Florida and Alabama say they need strong river flows to sustain their own drinking water needs, fisheries, industrial users and power plants — including an Alabama Power nuclear plant.