ATLANTA, Nov 1 (Reuters) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed on Thursday reducing the flow of water from Georgia rivers into Alabama and Florida in a bid to resolve a tussle among the three states over water use during a drought.
The states will also work on a fresh plan for the corps on how to respond to the drought, U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne told a news conference that followed a meeting among the governors of the three southeastern states.
“This is the best opportunity for us to find a solution with regard to water and its allocation,” Kempthorne said.
“It’s no longer theory. There is a drought in the South. It is also important to recognize that the solution can and will come from the governors,” he told a Washington news conference relayed via telephone.
The region’s worst drought in decades has prompted a water war among the three states and Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue has filed a lawsuit to force the corps to reduce the amount of water it releases each day from Lake Lanier, 45 miles (72 km) north of Atlanta.
The Washington meeting was the first opportunity for all three states to discuss the issue after weeks of acrimony and all three welcomed the plan, which they said was not enough of a reduction to hurt downstream activity.
The corps proposed a slow reduction in the minimum amount of water flowing through southwestern Georgia’s Woodruff Dam from 5,000 cubic feet per second (141 cubic metres per second) to 4,200 cubic feet per second, said Lt. Gen. Robert Van Antwerp, chief of the corps.
“What we need is extraordinary ability to operate in this time of drought,” Antwerp said.
WORRY ABOUT FISHERIES, POWER
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist had previously said he strongly opposed reducing the flow, in part because it would threaten fisheries in Florida’s northwestern Panhandle region.
Alabama Gov. Bob Riley also had opposed cutting the flow, arguing it could inhibit cooling at the Farley nuclear plant in southeastern Alabama that serves households in all three states.
The precise extent of the reduction will be determined after consultation with other government organizations, said a senior corps official.
The three governors said would work on writing an addendum to the corps manual with operating details for the plan before a meeting in Tallahassee, Florida’s state capital, on Dec. 12.
Lanier feeds not only Atlanta, the region’s largest city, but also a watershed system that serves towns, industries and power plants in other parts of Georgia, Alabama and Florida.
Experts argue the three states have long lacked a coherent plan for water management in the face of rapid population growth in the Atlanta area, which stands at the head of the watershed system.
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