Jul 10 2009

Shelby's amendment might tap tri-state water data

By Markeshia Ricks

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby has offered an amendment to a federal appropriations bill that finally could make the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report how it allocates water along the two river basins that have been the subject of tri-state water war.

For two decades, Alabama, Georgia and Florida have wrestled in court over the amount of water that should be allocated to each state from the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa and Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basins.

Alabama and Florida contend that Georgia has been illegally using reservoirs connected to these river basins as a source of water for the city of Atlanta. On at least two separate occasions the governors of the three states have tried to work out a compromise, but to no avail.

Shelby, a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, said in his remarks to the committee Thursday that the reservoirs were built with federal taxpayer money for specific purposes that did not include providing drinking water for Atlanta.

"The water should be allowed to fairly flow along the river, both upstream and down," Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, told the committee. "It should be allocated equitably and fairly by the Corps of Engineers for benefit to all three states."

Shelby's amendment was tacked on to the fiscal 2010 Energy, Water and Related Agencies appropriations bill during a committee markup of the legislation.

Gov. Bob Riley applauded Shelby's amendment, which was accepted and will now go before the full Senate.

"The Corps has stonewalled Alabama in refusing to provide this crucial information," Riley said in a news release Thursday. "Alabamians owe a great debt to Senator Shelby in forcing the Corps to reveal the true magnitude of the illegal withdrawals.

"Georgia's senators pulled out every stop in trying to defeat the Shelby Amendment. That ought to tell you how valuable the information will be to Alabama. The Corps and Georgia will not be able to hide the truth any longer."

Alabama has contended that the Corps made a secret agreement to allow Atlanta to illegally withdraw water from federal reservoirs in north Georgia.

The state maintains that the withdrawals have reduced the amount of water flowing into Alabama for industrial and recreational purposes.

Though the reservoirs are in Georgia, Shelby said they are federal reservoirs and they don't belong to either state.

"Congress never intended for this federal reservoir to be used primarily for Atlanta's water supply," Shelby said. "That conclusion has been reached by every court that has ever considered the issue. The Corps refuses to acknowledge either the court's ruling or the detrimental effects its decisions have upon those downstream from Atlanta."