Friday, May 22, 2009

Corps may release more water to Florida's Apalachicola River


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the agency probably will begin releasing more water in June from its dams upstream from Florida along the Chattahoochee River. But Florida officials say that's not soon enough.

Alabama, Florida and Georgia have been fighting in federal court over water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system since 1990. Over the objections of Florida officials, federal agencies in 2007 agreed on a plan to restrict water flow to allow federal reservoirs along the Chattahoochee River to refill in the midst of a drought.

With near normal rainfall, Lake Lanier has risen 14 feet from a record low last December and now is at elevation 1,065, which is six feet below full for the summer.

"This is a good news story because that means the lakes are recovering from this long-term drought we are under," said Lisa Coghlan, deputy public affairs administrator with the Corps' Mobile, Ala. district office. "We are actually getting back to normalcy."

But Florida and Alabama officials have pressed the Corps throughout this month to suspend the drought operations, saying that the federal plan doesn't say the Corps can until the first day of each month to decide.

Alabama and Georgia want water for cities, farms and industrial users while Florida wants water to support fish and wildlife along the Apalachicola River and the seafood industry around Apalachicola Bay. Despite the drought plan, there was minor flooding along the Apalachicola River in April because of heavy rains along the Flint River and along the Chattahoochee River downstream from the major federal reservoirs.

Florida officials say fish spawning season this month is threatened by the continued drought restrictions. Florida sent letters to the federal agency on May 8 and another one 10 days later challenging the Corps of Engineer's decision to wait until June 1 to decide whether to lift the restrictions.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole stated in the May 18 letter that the drought plan calls for lifting restrictions automatically without regard to climatic conditions or any other "vague" factors being used by the Corps.

In response to the Corps' announcement that restrictions probably will be lifted on June 1, DEP spokesman Doug Tobin said in an e-mail, "DEP would have liked the Corps to have taken action sooner, say March 1."

Coghlan said the Corps' letter responding to Florida was mailed today. She said she couldn't comment on the Florida letters until state officials had a chance to review the federal agency's response.

In a telephone conference call on Thursday, an attorney representing Georgia in the water dispute said the Corps can legally wait until the first day of each month to decide. Another Georgia official urged the Corps to establish a process for slowly releasing more water from Lake Lanier.

Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.

2 comments:

Constance said...

I work for a little water district in Broward, and I watch the news carefully, mapping the flow of water down the peninsula. It is a disappointment to me how long it takes the ACE to take any kind of action. It's as though they have to move through several layers of administration to make a decision. Surely,the scientists can evaluate the situation and release the water WHEN its needed!

Bruce Ritchie said...

What the Corps is doing is evaluating the situation and then they would be suspending drought operations if warranted.

Another side note is that I should say that this story has to take a complicated situation and simplify it to make it understandable and readable. For example, the Corps spokeswoman explained that she could not say that more water will be released if the drought plan is suspended. She explained that more of the INFLOW would be released. In other words, if it rains less, Florida will get less water. But it would be getting more water than it would have if the drought plan were in place.