ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia and Alabama are proposing a settlement of a long-running dispute over water flow into the Chattahoochee River, though the agreement would not address Florida groups' objections to how much water ultimately flows into the environmentally sensitive Apalachicola River.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, both Republicans, said Tuesday they will ask the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to approve a plan that would guarantee minimum water flows in Columbus, Georgia and southeast Alabama . They also want the Corps of Engineers to confirm the current minimum level on Lake Seminole, which releases water from the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers into Florida's Apalachicola River.
The deal could end Alabama's lawsuit against the Corps of Engineers over changes it made in 2017 to how it operates dams on the Chattahoochee, including Lake Lanier, northeast of Atlanta. That lake and part of the Chattahoochee downstream are the main water supply for much of metro Atlanta.
Ultimately, the fear that Atlanta's ever-expanding population would suck up all the water upstream and leave too little water for use downstream led to water shortages in both the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint system and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa system. It has prompted nearly 25 years of litigation over water use. , which originates in Georgia and flows through most of Alabama.
Litigation on the Chattahoochee has also played a role against environmental problems in the Apalachicola floodplain of Lake Seminole and the decline of the once abundant oyster fishery in Apalachicola Bay.
The deal will guarantee minimum water flows in Columbus for the first time, making water available to users in Columbus and Phenix City, Alabama, including a paper mill in Columbus. The minimum flow there indirectly refers to Walter F. Will also benefit the water levels of Lake George. The deal also would guarantee minimum flows in Columbia, Alabama, where Alabama Power Company's Farley Nuclear Plant draws water from the river to make steam and generate electricity.
"This proposal is a big deal for Alabama because the Corps has never before set minimum water-flow objectives in the parts of the Chattahoochee that impact us," Ivey said in a statement. “This will provide Alabama with long-term assurance that in times of drought, our citizens will be protected, and our stakeholders will know exactly how much water is coming their way.”
For Georgia, it removes another challenge of litigation, as the state previously won a major victory guaranteeing that metro Atlanta has the right to water from Lake Lanier, which is being used by growing regions thirsty for water. Extinguishes.
"The Chattahoochee River is the lifeblood of southwest Georgia, and this proposal will give citizens and businesses certainty about the water flow they need for business and leisure," Kemp said in a statement. Current issues related to the water supply for metro Atlanta at Lake Lanier, which are critical to the future of our state.
Katherine Zitsch, senior water policy adviser for the Atlanta Regional Commission, said that after studying the environmental impact of the agreement and taking public input, the Corps of Engineers should be able to make a decision on the proposal within a year.
Alabama said Tuesday it would put its lawsuit before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on hold pending a decision. If the Corps of Engineers rejects the deal, the lawsuit could restart.
The deal comes with some risks for Georgia. During periods of drought, the dams of Lake Lanier and West Point Lake may have to release more water to maintain lower but still guaranteed drought-level flows.
Zitsch and others argue that it is precisely because metro Atlanta has made progress toward conservation that water withdrawals have remained roughly the same since 2000 despite a 46% increase in population.
“In metro Atlanta we worry about water conservation and efficiency all the time,” Zitsch said. "In drought, we increase our water conservation measures to protect our limited water supply from Lake Lanier."
But while the deal may be a win-win for Georgia and Alabama, the National Wildlife Federation, Florida Wildlife Federation and Apalachicola Bay and Riverkeeper say they will continue their federal court appeal against the Corps of Engineers. They argue that the agency never properly considered the environmental impacts of the water management plan on freshwater flows.
"This agreement does not address the needs of the Apalachicola River, floodplain and bay," said Tania Galloni of Earthjustice. “These needs have never been adequately considered by the US Corps of Engineers. We know it is important to protect this world-class river system, and we will continue to ask the Court of Appeals to require the Corps to comply with federal environmental law to keep the Apalachicola healthy.
Alabama's lawsuit over the Coosa-Tallapoosa system also continues, focusing on how water is used from Lake Allatoona, northwest of Atlanta.
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