WASHINGTON — Despite a failure to reach a water-sharing accord with his counterparts in Alabama and Florida by last Saturday’s deadline, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue said he feels confident federal authorities are aware of his state’s critical need for drinking water.
“I don’t look at the water talks as failing,” he said Monday at an appearance in Washington, D.C. “I wanted the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers to understand the facts that we were facing. I think that has been accomplished.”
Given the stalemate among the states, the corps and other federal agencies now will take the lead in drafting the water-sharing plan, Interior Secretary Dick Kempthorne announced over the weekend.
The three states have been embroiled in a decades-old dispute over water rights in two river basins that begin in Georgia and run into Alabama and the Florida panhandle.
Water-starved and fast-growing Georgia, hit hard by a historic drought this past year, has insisted that more water be held in upstream reservoirs for drinking water.
But Alabama and Florida, contending that Georgia’s water woes have stemmed from unmanaged growth, have said adequate flows are needed downstream to provide water to municipalities, cool several power plants and supply industrial users.
The Army Corps of Engineers also has had to release water under the Endangered Species Act to protect threatened mussels and sturgeon.
The dispute now will be headed back to federal court, where the states have filed suit to block each other’s attempts to change the water releases.
Alabama Gov. Bob Riley on Monday criticized Gov. Perdue’s comments last week leading up to the states’ self-imposed settlement deadline that Georgia’s water needs were more critical than those of Alabama and Florida.
“The notion that Alabama and Florida should pay for Atlanta’s ever-increasing water needs is not something that Alabama will ever accept,” Gov. Riley said. “While Alabama always stands ready to resume negotiations, we also are anxious to have our day in court.”
Sarah Williams, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Environmental Conservation, said Florida also is ready to continue forward with litigation.
In the meantime, the Army Corps of Engineers’ new water-sharing plan will be due before June 1, when the current operating procedures, announced by the governors in Washington last November, expire.
Gov. Perdue said he expects that new plan to be favorable to Georgia.
“I would have preferred for this to be resolved among the governors of Alabama, Florida and Georgia,” he said. “We were not successful in that, but I think (with) our federal partners being more informed about (Georgia’s) issues and challenges, we will come out a winner in this process.”