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MONDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2007
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Southern water-sharing dispute traveling to D.C. on Thursday

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said his state is willing to share the water-shortage pain with Georgia and Florida during the current drought, but cannot let Georgia claim the water in federal reservoirs such as Lake Lanier as if it belonged only to Atlanta.

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue wants to reduce the downstream release of water from Lake Lanier into the Chattahoochee River.

But Riley and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist claim such cuts could reduce Chattahoochee and Apalachicola river flows to levels that would harm people and businesses in East Alabama and Florida’s Panhandle.

U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, met Friday with Perdue, then with Riley, to hear their positions.

Time for a solution

Next, the governors of the three states plan to meet in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to discuss sharing water resources.

“I hope we can get a better understanding of what our positions are,” Riley said. “I think it’s much better to do it face to face than it is to continue this rhetoric that has become so heightened over the last few days. It’s time for Alabama and Georgia and Florida ... to come up with a solution that makes sense rather than continuing to fight in court.”

The three states have been in a dispute for years over how to manage the supply of water that flows down from North Georgia into the other two states on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. In Atlanta, some 4 million people largely depend on Lake Lanier for drinking water. Birmingham does not draw drinking water from either of the two river systems involved.

Georgia’s reservoirs are already low and could fall below their conservation pools, the normal usable water in the upper levels of the lakes, by spring, according to models of a continuing serious drought by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

Call for conservation

So Georgia has called for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reduce the amount of water released from federal reservoirs that include Lakes Allatoona and Lanier.

Perdue also asked President Bush to declare Georgia a major disaster area, and to use executive powers to slash water releases from the reservoirs.

Riley and Crist responded last week with letters to the president of strong opposition.

Riley noted that the Farley Nuclear Plant on the Chattahoochee River in East Alabama — which produces 19 percent of Alabama Power Co.’s electricity — cannot operate if water flow falls below the minimum needed for cooling.

Potential consequences

That, he wrote, “could require a shutdown of the plant, thereby putting the reliability of the electric power grid in the region at risk.”

Crist told Bush that lower releases could pose economic peril for the Panhandle’s $134 million commercial fishing industry in Apalachicola Bay.

Unlike Alabama, Georgia has taken strong steps to conserve water since a 1987-88 drought and has statewide authority to order watering restrictions, according to Glenn Page, interim general manager of the Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority.

From 1990 to 2006, conservation efforts have cut water use per person from 146 gallons a day to 123 gallons, Page said.

Page said that Georgia ordered even-odd watering days back in June 2006, and cut the hours of even-odd watering from midnight to 10 a.m. on April 1.

In May and June, several local water jurisdictions — including Atlanta and Fulton County — cut watering to one day a week, imposing fines for scofflaws.

Rationing in Georgia

Now all outdoor watering is banned in Georgia, and Perdue has ordered a 10 percent cut in water use this winter compared with a normal winter.

That means homeowners will have to take shorter showers, flush less often and reduce dishwashing.

“That’s rationing,” Page said. “That’s what Governor Perdue has done to preserve the water supply.”

Changes in the Corps of Engineers’ water release from federal reservoirs in Georgia could come in weeks.

The Corps and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service expect by Nov. 15 to announce a plan that could cut water releases from Georgia reservoirs while still protecting endangered mussel species and an endangered sturgeon species in Florida, according to top federal officials and Charles “Chick” Krautler, director of the 10-county Atlanta Regional Commission.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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