Sep 15 2009

Army commits to following court ruling on water supply for Alabama, Georgia, Florida

Birmingham News

By MARY ORNDORFF

The Army's water control plans for Southeastern river basins will be rewritten to reflect a July court ruling that Atlanta's drinking water withdrawals from Lake Lanier are not authorized by law, a top Army official told Sen. Richard Shelby on Friday.

Shelby, R-Ala., said the commitment from Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy will protect Alabama's standing while the governors of the three affected states again try to negotiate a water sharing agreement.

Alabama officials, including the entire Congressional delegation, had feared the Army Corps of Engineers would use its process of updating water control plans to endorse Georgia's use of the lake for drinking water, which diminishes water supplies downstream for Alabama and Florida.

"This represents another huge victory for Alabama," Shelby said in a prepared statement.

After meeting with Alabama's congressional delegation last week, Darcy wrote Shelby on Friday to "unequivocally commit" that the new plans will adhere to the court decision.

"The Army will not use the process for updating the water control plans and manuals to propose or study any potential reallocation of water inconsistent with the court's ruling," she wrote.

A federal judge in July gave Georgia three years to stop the withdrawals from Lake Lanier, which were never authorized by Congress. The governors of Alabama, Georgia and Florida are now expected to try to pursue a deal that protects the economic interests of all three states along the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basin.

Lake Lanier, about 50 miles northeast of Atlanta, feeds into the Chattahoochee River along the border of Alabama and Georgia and into the Apalachicola Bay of Florida. Its original purpose was flood control, hydropower and navigation support.

"We feel like the Army and the Corps need to be even-handed and not take sides and let the governors settle this matter," Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said after the meetings with Army officials last week.