Aug 13 2010

Negotiate, please

Anniston Star

In Georgia's recent GOP gubernatorial primary, Republican candidates vowed that they would "aggressively negotiate" an end to the water war between their state and its neighbors, Alabama and Florida, if they were elected.

However, that campaign vow carried little weight in Washington, where Georgia's senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, decided they did not want to wait for any gubernatorial negotiations. Instead, they began pushing a solution of their own.

At issue, you will recall, is whether metro Atlanta can use Lake Lanier as a source of drinking water and in so doing deprive states downstream — Alabama and Florida.

In 2009, a federal judge ruled that Atlanta's withdrawal from Lanier was illegal. The judge also gave the states three years to arrive at a solution before metro Atlanta would have its water supply drastically cut.

After that ruling, officials of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the lake, pledged not to get involved in the controversy. With a policies-and-procedures manual to update, it had its hands full.

Last month, the same federal judge released a second ruling in which he said that if the Corps "does not at least consider the effects of current and future water supply withdrawals from Lake Lanier," the new guidelines will be "useless."

Chambliss and Isakson were surely thrilled. Let's get the Corps to write Atlanta's withdrawals into the manual.

Not so fast, said Alabama Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions and Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and George LeMieux. In a strongly worded letter to Jo Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, and Lt. Gen. Robert Van Antwerp, chief of engineers for the Corps, the Alabama and Florida senators wrote, "The unspoken premise of the letter from the Georgia senators is that the Corps can somehow develop a solution to the tri-state water controversy. We strongly disagree with that notion.

"The solution (to the problem) will require concessions by each state," they added, "and it is not the job of the Corps to decide what those concessions will be."

We could not agree more. There is nothing to indicate that "consider the effects" means giving metro Atlanta the water it wants — or even some of it. Moreover, since the Corps had pledged to stay out of the controversy, it should honor that pledge.

Concessions will have to be by everyone, but they should be hammered out at the negotiation table. The Georgia senators should stay out of it, and the governors chosen in November should make settling this matter a top priority.

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