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Last updated 7:35PM ET
April 22, 2021
Governors Seek Water-Sharing Agreement
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - The governors of three Southeastern states in the grips of a drought met Monday in a bid to work out how to share water in a key river basin, part of a dispute that has gone on for nearly two decades.

Florida's Charlie Crist, Georgia's Sonny Perdue and Alabama's Bob Riley were meeting at the Florida governor's mansion to discuss access to water that flows from the Atlanta area south into the Gulf of Mexico. U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne was also attending.

The fast-growing and water-starved Atlanta area gets most of its water from Lake Lanier, at the head of the river basin. But drawing more water from the lake means less for downstream uses in Alabama and Florida. Alabama is concerned about having enough water to cool the Joseph M. Farley Nuclear Plant, near Dothan.

Florida is concerned about the amount of fresh water that flows into the Apalachicola Bay, a prime shellfish producing area that relies on enough fresh water flowing into the bay for the health of the industry. The bay produces about 1 in 10 of the oysters eaten in the country.

Currently, the amount of water flowing into the Apalachicola River in Florida is at a historic low and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has said it may reduce the flow even further, a move Florida strongly opposes.

Fishermen and oystermen who work the bay say the areas that historically have the freshest water are now so salty that oysters can't survive.

That's a huge problem for the whole area, said Kevin Begos, executive director of the Franklin County Oyster & Seafood Task Force.

"Franklin County depends on the river and bay for seafood, recreation, and a draw for tourism. It is the engine that runs the local and regional economy," Begos said. "What is Florida going to do to prevent further harm?"

Environmentalists also are concerned for certain species, in addition to oysters, that conservationists say are threatened by lower flows.

The endangered Gulf sturgeon fish, and two species of mussel, the fat threeridge and the threatened purple bankclimber, are also imperiled by lower flows.

Amid all the talk of competition between thirsty Atlanta suburbs, the Alabama power plant and Florida's seafood industry economics, "what kind of gets lost is the ecosystem," said TJ Marshall, coordinator of the Florida Coastal and Ocean Coalition.

Without the proper mix of salt and fresh water, the species won't survive.

"It needs a certain amount of fresh water, it's what the biologists call a cocktail it's got to get mixed just right for that spawning to take place," said Marshall.

The governors' meeting is part of a nearly two-decade disagreement over how the three states share water in the Apalachicola-Chatahoochee-Flint river system.

Georgia has sued the Corps of Engineers to try to force it reduce water flow from North Georgia lakes into the rivers. Perdue has also asked President Bush to order that the release of Georgia water be reduced. Crist, in return, has urged Bush not to let Georgia slow the flow.

None of the governors nor Kempthorne spoke with reporters before Monday's meeting.

In early December, authorities said there was less than four months of available water left in Lake Lanier, which supplies most of metro Atlanta's 5 million people.

Just last week, Florida water managers approved the tightest ever restrictions on water use in the southern part of the state. Starting early next year, outside watering will only be allowed once a week from Orlando south to the Keys.

The meeting also follows a major agreement signed last week that will allow seven western states to conserve and share Colorado River water, ending a divisive battle among those states. More than 30 million people in California, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico are affected by that historic agreement.

The 20-year plan for the western states resolved several legal disputes among water agencies and formalized rules to cooperate during the ongoing drought in that region.

(Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
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