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Last updated 4:16PM ET
March 8, 2021
APR News Reports
APR News Reports
Tri-State Water Dispute Heads to Washington DC
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - The government officials from Alabama, Georgia and Florida were in Washington DC Thursday, 11/1, in an attempt to calm the waters of a major dispute. The ongoing drought has heightened the struggle over the state's shared river basins ... and now it appears Georgia will retain more water ... at least temporarily. Alabama Public Radio's Brett Tannehill reports ...

Most of the water sharing dispute can be summed up in one word ... Atlanta.
Georgia officials have watched the sprawling city's water supply ... which is contained in federal reservoirs ... slowly dwindle away as millions of gallons are sent downstream to support industrial, environmental and agricultural interests in Alabama and Florida. Gil Rogers, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, says the lack of water for Atlanta is tied to a lack of planning for sustainable growth.

ROGERS "In fact, in recent weeks the leadership here doesn't even want to talk about growth as a factor in the situation we face here in Atlanta. We think that is very shortsighted.

That shortsightedness may also be shared by Alabama. Next year, Georgia will release a State Water Management Plan as part of an effort to understand and effectively use its waterways. Alabama has yet to form ... or even begin a serious attempt at forming ... such a plan. April Hall with the Alabama Rivers Alliance says Alabama's failure to develop a management plan hurts its argument for more water.

HALL "When you go in front of these federal judges to argue who's going to get the water and use it most effectively it hurts Alabama when it doesn't have a plan on how it's going to use its water ... even how we could go to a conservation plan in times drought, like we're in now."

A lack of vision on this issue could also extend to the US Army Corps of Engineers, which regulates the amount of water that flows downstream from Georgia's federal reservoirs. A Corps official in Mobile says it appears Alabama and Florida don't need as much water for its interests as previously thought. Again, Gil Rogers ...

ROGERS "The Corps needs to be looking more broadly at what the most equitable way to divide up the water is. It's not just about what Alabama needs now and what Florida needs now. It's (about) giving each state the right to use the water reasonably both now and in the future. So it's not just about looking at a snapshot of what's there today. But it ought to be looking at what is needed going forward."

April Hall, says looking forward is something that needs to be done not just by the Corps, but also by officials and civic leaders at the local, state and regional levels.

HALL "We need to encourage our communities to grow in a smart sustainable way so we don't outgrow our water supply. People say Alabama is a water-rich state, but it is a finite supply. Moving forward, we've got to be smart about what we have."

Today's meeting in Washington was described as tense, but productive. Governor Bob Riley says the problem is manageable ...

RILEY "We have reached the point today that we have to make some decisions. If we go through another year like we did this year, then we cannot continue to operate under that same system we've operated on over the last 50 years. I think that's where we're going to be able to solve the problem. If we have the ability and flexibility to change these systems, then there's nothing I think we can't put through."

One of the issues discussed today was a plan by the Corps of Engineers to revise its manuals that regulate water releases from Georgia's reservoirs. Those involved agreed the states should have input into those revisions. The parties also agreed the Corps should withhold more water in Georgia to help sustain Atlanta until a long-term agreement is reached ... something that hasn't been done despite years of negotiations so far.
The plan to withhold more water in Georgia must still be approved by the US Fish and Wildlife Service because of its potential impact on endangered species. The agency is expected to release a biological opinion of the plan within two weeks.

For Alabama Public Radio, I'm Brett Tannehill
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