Issue Position: Water
"Georgia continues to experience a severe and historic drought. For the past few years, we have been asking the Corps of Engineers to do something they are legally obligated to do and something that is necessary for responsible operation of Georgia's river basins. Updating the water control manuals will help ensure that our state has an adequate water supply in the future and will help the Corps make smarter decisions in their management of Georgia's river systems."
Root causes of the water crisis:
Georgia's water crisis has been exacerbated by the management practices by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ("Corps") of Georgia's river basins, the "water wars" between Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, and the severe and historic nature of the drought itself.
What is a water control plan?
The Corps operates a number of different reservoirs across river systems. Normally they conduct their operations under a water control plan - a plan that identifies the objectives for managing the system (releasing and retaining water for different needs, such as navigation, water supply, and recreation).
What is an interstate water compact?
Interstate water compacts are the preferred way to allocate water among states that share river systems. Georgia shares the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) River Basin with Alabama. Georgia shares the ACF River Basin with Alabama and Florida.
Recent History of the "water wars"
For decades, Georgia, Florida and Alabama tried to negotiate water compacts to determine the allocation of water in the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) and Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basins between the three states. The failure to create water compacts resulted in the negotiations process breaking down into litigation. Unfortunately, neither a judicial mediator nor mediation efforts by the Secretary of the Interior have been successful.
Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) Basin
Because there is no updated water control manual and because the Governors of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida have not agreed on water allocations, the Corps has been operating the ACF system pursuant to an Interim Operating Plan (IOP). This IOP was developed after the state of Florida filed suit against the Corps under the Endangered Species Act for not providing enough water for several endangered sturgeon and mussels in the Apalachicola River. This IOP required the Corps to release artificially high levels of water to protect sturgeon and mussel populations downstream in Florida. Specifically, the IOP required a 5000 cubic feet per second (cfs) minimum flow at Jim Woodruff Dam.
Implementation of the IOP in 2007, the year that Georgia experienced the historic drought of record, resulted in the devastation of Georgia's lakes we all witnessed. The entire Georgia delegation, acting together, took several important steps to attempt to alleviate the hemorrhaging of water from our lakes, including:
* We supported Governor Perdue's request for the immediate alteration of all ACF Reservoir releases to respond to critical drought conditions and to ensure that Georgia would continue to have an ample supply of safe drinking water.
* We introduced legislation in both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives to alleviate the water crisis by allowing states suffering from droughts to be temporarily exempt from the Endangered Species Act.
* We sent a letter to President Bush, which I hand-delivered to him at the White House, urging him to approve Governor Perdue's request to declare a major disaster area in Georgia and utilize the executive power under the Endangered Species Act to exempt the state from complying with water reservoir releases during unprecedented drought conditions.
* In addition, Senator Isakson and I facilitated and attended a meeting in Washington with the Corps, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Governor Perdue, and Alabama's Governor Riley, Senator Shelby, and Senator Sessions.
In all of our discussions with the Corps, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the President, and our colleagues from Florida and Alabama, our message has been consistent: the IOP is unsustainable, and it is draining our lakes. Ultimately, if you drain the headwaters, everyone will lose because there will be no more water to send downstream.
Understanding the urgency of the situation, the Corps drafted an Emergency Drought Operations Plan (EDO) to modify the IOP by reducing the minimum flow from Woodruff Dam from 5000 cfs to 4750 cfs and then incrementally downward as conditions merit.
On November 1, 2007, the Corps initiated consultation with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW) to implement the EDO for the ACF basin. On November 16, 2007, the USFW released its Biological Opinion on the EDO proposed by the Corps. The EDO was essential to give the Corps more flexibility in managing the ACF basin in light of the extreme drought conditions in the area. The EDO was able to better meet the water needs of users upstream than the previous IOP while at the same time providing adequate flows to endangered species located downstream.
In developing the EDO, I was pleased to see the Corps note the importance of storage in the headwater lakes in the system. The EDO plan allows for more water to be retained in Lake Lanier, West Point Lake, and Lake Walter F. George. Increased storage is vital to the drinking water supply for many of Georgia's communities and to the economic viability of businesses surrounding these lakes, and because of the EDO, we have seen Georgia's lakes fill since its implementation in November.
The EDO is set to expire June 1, 2008.
Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) Basin
The Corps has also taken important steps to manage the ACT basin in light of the historic drought. On November 30, 2007, the Corps announced a reduction in flows from Lake Allatoona, beginning December 1, 2007, from an average of about 490 cfs to about 320 cfs. This critical step prevented the depletion of Lake Allatoona, provided more storage in Georgia on the ACT system, and allowed Allatoona to refill.
* Water Control Manuals Update - On October 17, 2007, Secretary of the Army Pete Geren directed the Army Corps of Engineers to update the water control manuals for the ACT Basin and on January 30, 2008, he directed them to update the ACF basin.
o Updating the water control manuals will help ensure that our state has an adequate water supply in the future, and it will help the Corps make smarter decisions in its management of Georgia's river systems. It is critical that we update the water control plan to meet the water needs of the people of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida.
o FY 2008 Omnibus Appropriations bill language - The unnecessary language that was inserted in this bill during a backroom deal in December of 2007 will have little effect on the updating of the water manuals because it takes at least three years to update those manuals. It's important to note that: (1) this language will die with the appropriations bill, which expires on October 1, 2008; (2) Secretary of the Army Pete Geren has ordered the updating of the ACT and the ACF manuals to begin and that process has started; and (3) the process of updating the water control manuals is at least a 3 year process, so this language can have no effect on what is currently happening because it only prevents funding to be used to implement updated water control manuals and we are still 3 years away at least from having completed water control manuals so there will be nothing to implement this fiscal year anyway. Senator Isakson and I will continue to work to ensure the Corps has the necessary resources to complete the process of updating the manuals.
* Governors' Negotiations - In November 2007, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Dirk Kempthorne, and the Council on Environmental Quality Chairman, Jim Connaughton, initiated negotiations between the Governors of Georgia, Florida, and Alabama aimed at reaching a water sharing agreement.
o On March 2, 2008, in a letter to the Governors of Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, Secretary Kempthorne and Chairman Connaughton acknowledged that although more progress had been made on negotiations in 4 months than the prior 18 years, they were ultimately unsuccessful in reaching an agreement.
* Court Ruling - On February 5, 2008, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the 2003 Settlement Agreement, which reallocated storage capacity in Lake Lanier for water supply needs constitutes "a major operational change" requiring Congressional approval.
o The settlement agreement in the DC litigation attempted to resolve one piece of the long-standing water wars dispute. The piece that it attempted to resolve was the appropriate compensation to be paid by the federal hydropower customers for water supply storage in Lake Lanier. The settlement agreement would have provided greater certainty to Georgia water users and the beneficiaries of federal hydropower on the terms for meeting future water supply needs from Lake Lanier.
o The settlement agreement did not attempt to resolve the dispute over the allocation of water between Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. The DC Circuit ruling does not address that issue at all, nor does the DC Circuit have jurisdiction to make such an allocation. We will continue to work with our sister states on an amicable solution as to that issue.
o The DC Circuit ruled on the narrow issue of whether the Corps had the authority under a particular statute (the Water Supply Act) to enter the future water storage contracts contemplated by the settlement. The Court held that the Corps had no such authority. The State of Georgia believes that ruling is wrong legally, because the Corps had a strong basis for concluding that it had such authority. The State of Georgia also believes the ruling is wrong as a matter of policy because it obstructs the execution of contracts that would provide storage for future water storage while compensating hydropower users for loss of peak hydropower.
o The Court expressly did not reach the issue of whether Congress authorized water supply storage in Lake Lanier when it approved the construction of the reservoir. Moreover, the ruling does not state that the current levels of water supply storage or uses are unlawful. Therefore, it should not interfere with Georgia's current use of Lake Lanier for water supply.
o The ruling has nothing to do with, and no impact on, the disputes involving the Corps' operation of Lake Lanier during the drought. Existing storage levels and drought conditions dictate that the Corps conserve Lake Lanier's waters so that they are available to meet Georgia's essential needs, and we will work to ensure that that happens.
* Modified IOP - It was my hope that prior to the expiration of the current EDO, the Governors would have agreed upon water allocations between the three states through the negotiations process led by Secretary Kempthorne and Chairman Connaughton. When those negotiations failed, we faced a reversion to the original IOP after the EDO expires on June 1, 2008. I expressed my concern about this possibility to both the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of the Interior.
o On April 15, 2008, the Corps announced proposals for a modified IOP for the ACF to take effect when the current EDO expires on June 1, 2008. It is clear that the old IOP was unsustainable and therefore contributed to the drastically low lake levels in Georgia last year. It is now up to the USFWS to review the IOP proposal and make a determination prior to June 1. I will closely monitor their response.