, December 17, 2007 (ENS) - The governors of Florida, Georgia and Alabama and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne today agreed upon a revised schedule to address the short-term and long-term water supply needs of all three states.
The agreement came during a day-long meeting at the Florida Governor's mansion hosted by Governor Charlie Crist with Governors Sonny Perdue of George and Bob Riley of Alabama at a time when rainfall across most of north Alabama and northwest Georgia is its lowest since 1839.
The three governors agreed to a new date of March 15 for state and federal partners "to develop improved drought strategies," Governor Crist said. The March 15 date moves the schedule up more quickly than the previously agreed date of June 1.
"Water conservation is precious to our three states," Crist said. "The people of our state have suffered due to the recent reduction of water flow. Due to recent rainfall, we see increased amounts of water entering Florida that will assist our oystermen," he said.
While some rain has fallen in south Florida, last week the South Florida Water Management District declared an "extreme District-wide water shortage" and adopted an unprecedented one-day-a-week watering schedule for residential landscape irrigation to conserve regional water supplies.
From left: Alabama Governor Bob Riley, Florida Governor Charlie Crist, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, and Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue. December 17, 2007 (Photo courtesy DOI)
The governors agreed to send a high level staff delegation to Washington, DC in early January to discuss steps needed to move toward a new drought protocol for the three states that share the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers.
It was also agreed that the governors would meet in February to conclude a tri-state water protocol that would take effect on March 15, 2008.
Representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service participated in today's meeting to provide factual information on current conditions of both river basins.
The dispute over surface water usage, known as the "tri-state water wars," began in 1990 when the city of Atlanta, after assessing its projected population growth and future water needs, sought a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to create new reservoirs on the Chattahoochee River, the Flint River, and the Coosa River.
The reservoirs would hold back an additional 529 million gallons of water a day to be stored in Lake Sidney Lanier, Atlanta's major source of drinking water.
Atlanta's long-term plan included an increase in withdrawals of 50 percent from the Chattahoochee and the Flint by the year 2010.
But downstream, aquatic life in the Apalachicola Bay on the Gulf of Mexico needs water and so do the people who depend on it.
The Apalachicola Bay fishing industry is responsible for $134 million in direct economic output and an additional $71 million in indirect value-added impacts.
The region produces 90 percent of Florida's oyster supply, 10 percent of the nation's oysters, and the state's third-largest shrimp harvest.
A conservation group says the real problem is that Atlanta's "uncontrolled growth" has outrun its water supply. The Apalachicola Riverkeeper holds Georgia responsible for allocating water "without regard for the future or downstream users."
After fighting over these issues in the courts for at least two decades, on November 1, for the first time, the governors of the three states met to discuss the challenges faced by sharing water use during drought conditions in the Southeast.
That meeting opened up communications pathways that resulted in today's meeting.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.
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