Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Crist considers meeting with Ala., Ga. in water dispute


Gov. Charlie Crist is mulling over dates to meet with his counterparts from Alabama and Georgia as leaders of the three neighboring states try to resolve a longstanding feud over how to divvy up water coming from Lake Lanier.

With a federal judge saying Atlantans aren’t entitled to water from the reservoir, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and Alabama Gov. Bill Riley have agreed to meet but are waiting for Crist to respond on acceptable dates. The request to meet follows a federal court ruling last month that may end the Georgia capital’s future prospects for pulling water from the reservoir to quench the collective thirst to the teeming city.

Alabama and Florida officials are concerned about lack of water flowing from Lake Lanier, a big federal reservoir north of Atlanta. Florida’s oyster fishery is especially vulnerable because a drop in fresh water into Apalachicola Bay makes the water too salty.

“I have always believed that a negotiated settlement that protects the rights and resources of all three states is the most lasting solution,” Perdue said in a letter to Crist and Riley.

Crist spokesman Sterling Ivey said the governor was reviewing the 19 dates acceptable to Riley and Perdue over the next three months.

Nine weeks after taking testimony in a water war between Florida, Alabama and Georgia, Senior U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson in July called on Congress to settle the dispute within three years. If not, water distribution would revert back to a baseline arrangement forged in the 1970s when Atlanta was a fourth its current size, leaving a huge metro area to try to find a new source for water.

Georgia officials have asked that more water from Lake Lanier be allowed to remain within the state to quench the thirst of Atlanta, now home to about 5.3 million people.The three states and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been in litigation over sharing the waters for nearly two decades.

The disputes have focused primarily on the operation of federal reservoirs on the Chattahoochee River. The largest is Buford Dam, which forms Lake Lanier north of Atlanta. Local officials, with the Corps approval, have been diverting more water from the reservoir as the region booms.

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