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Last updated 4:51AM ET
February 26, 2021
APR News Reports
APR News Reports
Wildlife Officials Approve Temporary Water Sharing Plan
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - The US Fish and Wildlife Service has given its approval to a plan that will withhold more water in Georgia to ensure drinking water for Atlanta. Governors from Georgia, Alabama and Florida agreed to the temporary plan two weeks ago, which also means more water for two lakes in Alabama. Brett Tannehill reports ...


US wildlife officials today announced populations of endangered aquatic wildlife will not be critically harmed by a plan to reduce water releases from federal reserviors in Georgia to support water use in metro-Atlanta.
Southeast Regional Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Sam Hamilton ...

SAM - We looked at three endangered mussels and we looked at the Gulf sturgeon and concluded non-jeopardy on all those. That's not to say there's not an effect, there is an effect, and there are going to be species lost and there are consequences to drought conditions and the demands that are being placed on that system.

The biological opinion that delivers that assessment did not take into account the impact on other wildlife, most notably Florida's prized oyster beds in Apalachicola Bay. But because of their economic and agricultural importance, the oysters ... more specifically, the water salinity they require ... were a factor in determining the reduced water flows.
Under the current temporary plan, the US Army Corps of Engineers will keep more water in Lakes Allatoona and Lanier in Georgia. Jim Connaughton, chairman of the federal Council on Environmental Quality, says as rainfall hopefully returns to the river basins during the wetter winter months, more and more water will be released downstream.

JIM - When we are talking about reduced flows, we're talking about having reduced flows for the smallest possible time. So we're not talking about a permanent outcome here. We're talking about dealing with the immediate set of issues. And again, I think the three Governors are generally comfortable with where we are for the next little bit.

In Alabama, water releases will be reduced by 20-percent from Lake Jordan on the Coosa River to help support hydro-power generation. Water releases in the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa river basin will also be coordinated to create higher river levels allowing for barge traffic and other navigation. Lake Martin will see its winter pool increased by 3 feet, and will be allowed to begin storing water for summer 30 days earlier. Also, one of the monitoring points to ensure proper water flows will be located on the Alabama River south of Montgomery.
These are short-term solutions to a problem that has been unsolvable for the past 17 years. Federal officials say one of the biggest problems, especially in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin, is an inadequate storage capacity ... capacity that needs to be increased for current and future use. They also say the ongoing drought has helped force the states to a new level of cooperation. US Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne ...

DIRK - This is a drought of some historic proportion. But at this point, some two weeks after sitting down and going through some of these things, some real progress has been made. But we're not to the finish line.)

The next step is for the Governors of the three states to agree upon an amended version of the US Army Corps of Engineers drought protocol manual, which regulates water flows in the two river basins. If that agreement can be reached, it would be the first time in nearly 20 years that drought protocol has been updated. Meanwhile, the plan for reduced flows has begun and must be re-evaluated by June 1st when the biological opinion on the plan expires.
There are still 7 active lawsuits circulating among the three states over their water sharing dispute.

For Alabama Public Radio, I'm Brett Tannehill
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