Oct 01 2010

Georgia senators dive into drinking water legal battle

Birmingham News

Georgia’s withdrawals from Lake Lanier to supply drinking water to the At­lanta region would no longer be against the law under legislation introduced Thursday by both U.S. senators from Georgia.

The move opens a politically­charged front in the three-state dispute over water resources in the Southeast.

The withdrawals, which Ala­bama officials view as a threat to the state’s downstream econ­omy, were never properly au­thorized by Congress, according to a federal judge’s ruling about 15 months ago. Making them le­gal, as proposed by U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, both Georgia Republi­cans, would derail the delicate negotiations of the three gover­nors to find a compromise, in­stead making Georgia the clear winner in the water wars.

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., through a spokesman called the legislation “dead on arrival.”

Alabama, Georgia and Florida for two decades have fought over the water resources in two river basins they share. Lake Lanier in Georgia is at the top of one of those basins, and Alabama and Florida successfully argued in court that the reservoir was intended only for navigation, hydropower and flood control, not municipal drinking water. The court decision sent the three states back to the bargaining table.

But the four-bill package from Isakson and Chamb-liss, introduced on the last day of the Senate session before the November elections, would add municipal and industrial water supply as an authorized use for Lake Lanier and, in one of the bills, also for Lake Allatoona.

“It is critical that we reach an agreement that is in the best interest of Georgia while at the same time respecting the interests and concerns of Florida and Alabama,” Isakson said in a prepared statement. “However, Senator Chambliss and I believe we should work to abide by (the judge’s) ruling and do everything in our power to ensure Georgia’s water needs will be met.

A spokesman for Gov. Bob Riley said the legislation was detrimental to negotiations.

“(Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue) has said repeatedly the three governors need to work this out, yet here Georgia’s senators go and unilaterally propose these provocative bills that are detrimental to a negotiated settlement,” said Riley spokesman Todd Stacy.