Jan 02 2008

Sic 'em, Sen. Shelby: Defending Alabama's interests

It is fun to watch politicians rise in righteous indignation and mock surprise to protest something that they would have known about if they'd paid attention.

That happened recently when Georgia Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss expressed their shock that Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby had stuck an amendment into the "omnibus" spending bill that would bar the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from implementing changes in the distribution of water from the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa river basin until a thorough study of regional needs was made.

Although the provision was in earlier drafts of the bill, the Georgia senators apparently did not catch it. Or, if they did, they waited until the bill had passed before they protested.

Either way, Isakson's and Chambliss' fumbling attempt to cover their oversight is not the point.

The point is that Shelby's amendment was needed. It's good that the senator pushed it through.

For years, Georgia has wanted the Corps to update its water manual, an update almost everyone admits is needed. However, Alabama claims that Georgia wants the update based on speculative and incomplete data that would favor the metro Atlanta area at the expense of folks downstream. With Shelby's amendment, that will not happen.

The Georgia senators (and Georgia's governor) protested that Shelby's action will make it more difficult for a negotiated settlement to be reached. That's not necessarily true. The Alabama senator's amendment does not prevent the Corps from beginning the updating process. It only states that no updates will be implemented until the Corps has put together a long-range plan for water withdrawal and allocation.

In other words, if the Corps will do its homework and plan ahead, then it can provide the states with the information they need to arrive at a realistic water-sharing agreement. If so, the Corps manual can be updated accordingly.

That is a wise course of action. To do otherwise would only prolong a struggle that already has gone on too long.