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Last updated 7:16PM ET
March 6, 2021
Army Corps Proposes Tri-State Water Plan
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - The Corps of Engineers on Tuesday proposed a new southeastern water-sharing plan that would allow greater storage in upstream lakes and lower river flows into Florida's Apalachicola Bay a move that the corps acknowledged is likely to harm threatened species.

The new plan comes after settlement negotiations among the governors of Florida, Georgia and Alabama broke down in February, prompting Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to say that the federal government would impose its own solution.

In times of extreme drought, the plan would continue a temporary provision announced last fall allowing river flows to dip below the current minimum of 5,000 cubic feet per second at the Jim Woodruff Dam, near the Florida border. Under particularly wet conditions, it also allows for reservoirs such as Lake Lanier, north of Atlanta, to keep up to 50 percent of their inflow instead of the current maximum of 30 percent.

While those provisions seem designed to please Georgia, a spokesman for Gov. Sonny Perdue said the state was still reviewing the impact of the full proposal. Florida and Alabama officials also withheld comment.

"There's a pretty extensive bit of modeling that we'll have to do before we have a reaction," Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley said. "But I think it is a positive development that we're moving forward."

The plan to be finalized by June 1, when the temporary arrangement announced by Kempthorne last fall expires covers the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin that runs south into Florida along the Georgia-Alabama line. Barring new developments, it is likely to remain in place for several years.

In an accompanying letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Corps wrote that the proposal is "likely to adversely affect" four threatened species in the system _the Gulf sturgeon and three types of mussels. Fish and Wildlife is expected to issue a new biological opinion on the changes before June 1, and a corps spokesman said the proposal could change.

"It's subject to a lot of modifications if that is what's determined is necessary," spokesman Pat Robbins said.

The three states have been feuding for nearly two decades over water rights in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa river basins.

Georgia is fighting to hold back more water in federal reservoirs to serve its growing population.

Florida and Alabama argue that Georgia hasn't adequately planned for growth. The extra withdrawals, they argue, would damage the environment and dry up river flows into their states that support smaller municipalities, power plants, commercial fisheries and industrial users like paper mills.

With a record drought creating a critical water shortage last fall, President Bush dispatched Kempthorne to try to settle the dispute. But the talks failed and the states are now focusing on litigation to settle their differences.

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