WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., announced that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has now committed to begin to update its outdated water control plan for the drought-ravaged river basin that serves Georgia and Alabama.
In response to a letter this month from Isakson and Chambliss, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works John Paul Woodley told both senators by telephone that the Corps will start the process for updating the water control manual for the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa River Basin. Isakson and Chambliss also urged the Corps to honor its commitment to begin the update for Georgia’s other drought-ravaged river basin, the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin.
“The water control plan governing these two critical river basins is decades old and is no longer serving the needs of the state of Georgia. Thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of residents have moved to this part of Georgia since then. It is imperative that we update the water control plan to reflect 21st century demand and usage,” Isakson said. “The action taken by the Corps today is a good first step, but there is still much work to be done in order to see that the threat to our Georgia lakes is stopped.”
“An updated water control plan will provide essential tools for the Corps of Engineers to operate the ACT System in a responsible manner,” said Chambliss. “I am pleased that after months of dialogue the Corps has taken action, but Georgia still faces a dire situation with regard to our short term water supply. I urge the Corps to take the necessary steps to ensure that Georgians have access to water in both the short and long term, and we will continue to hold their feet to the fire on this.”
Isakson and Chambliss have worked to get Georgia, Florida and Alabama together and to force the Corps of Engineers to update a 20-year-old Water Control Plan for the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa and Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basins. Last year, Isakson and Chambliss held Senate hearings in Gainesville and Columbus to implore the Corps to keep its commitment to update its outdated water control plan for the two river basins.
On Aug. 1, Isakson and Chambliss met with Secretary of the Army, Pete Geren, as well as Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works John Paul Woodley, Lt. Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp and General Counsel Craig Schmauder. At the meeting, Geren indicated his desire to give mediation time to work before starting the update of the water control manuals.
However, Geren gave his commitment to the senators that if and when mediation broke down and was not making progress, he would begin the update of the water control manuals. Geren’s predecessor had committed to begin the update of the water control manuals on Jan. 2 but failed to honor that commitment.
On Sept. 28, after judges involved in the mediation announced that the talks had broken down, Isakson and Chambliss sent a letter to Geren strongly urging him to honor his pledge to update the water control plan.
Alabama sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1990 to block the corps from giving metro Atlanta any more water out of Lake Lanier. Since then, Alabama, Florida and Georgia have made a number of unsuccessful attempts to negotiate a long-term agreement on how to share water.
In September, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources issued a drought declaration prohibiting most types of outdoor residential water use in the northern third of the state while the remaining Georgia counties remain subject to outdoor watering limits. Many local jurisdictions in Georgia have also put in place watering restrictions that are more stringent than those mandated by the state. The state of Alabama has not mandated any watering restrictions despite the record drought.
Georgia’s entire congressional delegation introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House to alleviate the current water crisis by allowing states suffering from droughts to be exempt temporarily from the Endangered Species Act, which in Georgia is threatening our low water supply by taking away large amounts of water from north Georgia and sending it downstream to protect mussels and sturgeon in Florida.
Specifically, the legislation would amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to allow a state to be exempt from the Act when the Secretary of the Army or a governor declares that drought conditions are threatening the health, safety and welfare of residents in a region served by a river basin managed by the federal government.