Georgia and Alabama are proposing a settlement to a long-running dispute over water flows in the Chattahoochee River, although the deal won't address objections from groups in Florida over how much water ultimately flows into the environmentally sensitive Apalachicola River.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, both Republicans, said Tuesday that they will ask the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to approve a plan that would guarantee minimum water flows at Columbus, Georgia and in southeast Alabama. They also want the Corps of Engineers to affirm 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 for changes it made in 2017 in how it operates dams on the Chattahoochee, including at Lake Lanier northeast of Atlanta. That lake and the portion of the Chattahoochee just downstream is the main water supply for much of metro Atlanta.

Ultimately, fear that Atlanta's ever-growing population would suck up all the upstream water and leave little for uses downstream has driven almost 25 years of litigation over water use in both the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint system, and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa system, which flows out of Georgia to drain much of Alabama.

The litigation over the Chattahoochee has also played out against environmental troubles in the Apalachicola floodplain downstream of Lake Seminole and the collapse of the once-prolific oyster fishery in Apalachicola Bay.

The deal would guarantee a minimum water flow at Columbus for the first time, which would provide water for users in Columbus and Phenix City, Alabama, including a paper mill in Columbus. The minimum flow there would also indirectly benefit water levels at Walter F. George Lake in Eufaula, Alabama. The deal would also guarantee a minimum flow at Columbia, Alabama, where Alabama Power Co.'s Farley Nuclear Plant draws water from the river to make steam and generate electricity.

"This proposal is a big deal for Alabama as the Corps has never before set minimum water-flow objectives in the parts of the Chattahoochee that affect us," Ivey said in a statement. "It would provide Alabama with long-term assurances that, in times of drought, our citizens will be protected, and our stakeholders will know how much water is coming their way."

For Georgia, it clears away one more litigation challenge after the state won earlier big victories guaranteeing that metro Atlanta had rights to water from Lake Lanier, quenching the thirst of growing areas.

"The Chattahoochee River is the lifeblood of southwest Georgia, and this proposal would give citizens and businesses certainty about the flow of water they need for business and leisure alike," Kemp said in a statement "Just as significant, adoption of this proposal would end the current issues related to water supply for metro Atlanta at Lake Lanier, which is crucial to the future of our state."

Katherine Zitsch, senior water policy advisor at the Atlanta Regional Commission, said that the Corps of Engineers should be able to reach a decision on the proposal within a year, after studying the environmental impact of the agreement and taking public input.

Alabama on Tuesday said it would pause its lawsuit before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals pending a decision. If the Corps of Engineers rejects the deal, the lawsuit could resume.

The deal does come with some risk for Georgia. During drought periods, the dams at Lake Lanier and West Point Lake could have to release more water than otherwise to maintain a lower but still guaranteed drought-level flow.

Zitsch and others argue that's OK because metro Atlanta has made strides toward conservation, with water withdrawals staying about the same since 2000 despite a 46% increase in population.

"What we do in metro Atlanta is worry about water conservation and efficiency all the time," Zitsch said. "In drought, we ramp up our water conservation measures in order to protect our limited water supply out of Lake Lanier."

But while the deal may be a win-win for Georgia and Alabama, the National Wildlife Federation, the Florida Wildlife Federation, and the Apalachicola Bay and Riverkeeper say they will continue their federal court appeal against the Corps of Engineers. They argue the agency never properly considered the environmental impacts that its water management plan has 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 U.S. Corps of Engineers. We know it's critical to protect this world-class river system, and we will continue to ask the court of appeals to make the Corps comply with federal environmental law to keep the Apalachicola healthy."

Alabama's lawsuit over the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa system, focusing on how water is used from Allatoona Lake northwest of Atlanta, also continues.