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Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - 5:01am

Perdue Gets His Group Hug, Another Hurdle in Water Negotiations

Last week, Governor Sonny Perdue said he hoped the chief executives of Florida, Alabama and Georgia would get together for a "group hug" after discussing the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basin.

On Tuesday, the Governors did meet in Montgomery, Al. to begin water negotiations over use of the ACF. And, in a good humored manner, Perdue did get close enough to wrangle up a group hug with Charlie Crist of Florida and Bob Riley of Alabama.

The three men say they feel confident a deal over metro Atlanta's main water source, the federal reservoir Lake Lanier, can be reached.

Yet, another potential hurdle to an agreement emerged. The three men announced any deal made will have to be approved by their respective state legislatures as part of a water compact. The Governors would not address whether they were concerned the process could be derailed by local lawmakers in each state, or whether legislators would be able to change any language in a compact through the form of amendments.

At the very least, seeking legislative approval ensures negotiations will last until at least May, when Florida's legislative session ends. It also means should something go wrong, Georgia will have less time to get a compact together. The three states are negotiating after a federal judge ruled in July that water from Lake Lanier, which feeds the ACF basin, was being illegally drawn to be used as a drinking water source for Metro Atlanta. The judge set a 2012 deadline to get Congressional approval for those withdrawals. Congress did not implicitly designate the water in Lanier as a major source of drinking water when establishing the reservoir, the judge ruled.

Meanwhile, during a twenty minute press conference, Crist and Riley stressed the need for conservation. Both states want to see more water released from Lake Lanier during times of drought. Asked after the press conference whether Georgia discussed conservation during the meetings, Gov Riley of Alabama said "It might have been Charlie [Crist of Florida], it might have been Sonny [Perdue], either way, we're going to get something done."

Any agreement could affect water supplies, economic development and recreation in all three states.


Rickey Bevington