Language Would Restrict Corps from Updating Water Control Plan for Drought-Ravaged River Basins Serving Georgia, Alabama, Florida
U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., blasted an omnibus spending bill over its inclusion of language that could restrict the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in its efforts to update its outdated water control plans for the drought-ravaged river basins that serve Georgia, Florida and Alabama. Isakson and Chambliss voted against the spending bill, which passed the Senate Tuesday evening by a vote of 76 to 17.
Voicing their disapproval on the Senate floor, Isakson and Chambliss criticized the broken appropriations process in Congress that allowed the language to be inserted into the spending bill without any debate or consultation of senators from affected states. The language could block the Corps from meeting its statutory obligations and unnecessarily injects Congress into an issue that should remain in the hands of the Governors of the three affected states.
Isakson and Chambliss believe that updating the water control manuals is the only way the three states will be able to make informed decisions regarding any water sharing agreements. They also said the language inserted into the omnibus spending bill could thwart the progress being made by the three Governors, who said this week they hope to have a water sharing agreement by March.
"There is no better and more precious resource than water, and we are within 90 days reach of finding the right way to solve problems that have been out of the grasp of the states of Georgia, Florida and Alabama since 1989," Isakson said on the Senate floor. "There also is nothing better in the legislative process than a spirit of cooperation between each of us who share borders in our states, which is why I am deeply disappointed in the tactics used to delay a solution to the water crisis facing our states."
"The Governors of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida are finally at the negotiating table finding a way forward on this very difficult issue," said Chambliss. "It is mind boggling to see this language in the Omnibus bill intended to block that progress. This language was not in the House-passed bill, and the full Senate did not even debate the Fiscal Year 2008 Energy & Water Appropriations bill. Only the Senate Energy & Water Appropriations Subcommittee approved this language and it has been included in the Omnibus. That is simply not right. Luckily, this is a two year process so we will be sure to re-visit this issue at the first opportunity."
The language, which was added to the omnibus spending bill at the request of U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, R-Ala., specifically prohibits the Corps from using funds to implement any new water control manuals for the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) and Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basins. It also imposes restrictions on the data the Corps can use to update the current manuals. Under the data restrictions outlined in the bill, Isakson and Chambliss contend the Corps would have to base all future withdrawals on a period in which Georgia was under dramatic water restrictions instead of a normal rainfall period.
On October 18, 2007, Secretary of the Army, Pete Geren, committed to both senators by telephone and in writing that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would begin to update the water control manual for the drought-ravaged ACT River Basin. The current release of water from the two basins is based on science and population figures that are almost 20 years old and that do not reflect the tremendous growth and modern-day needs of Georgia.
Earlier this week, the Governors of the three states as well as the Interior Secretary and the Army Corps of Engineers sat down to continue their talks over how to resolve the 17-year-old water dispute. The Governors emerged from the meeting saying they are hopeful they will reach an agreement by March.
Isakson and Chambliss have continually worked to get Georgia, Florida and Alabama together and to force the Corp of Engineers to update the nearly 20-year-old water control manuals for the ACT and ACF 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 plans for the two river basins.
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 attempts to settle how to share water from the two river basins that all three need.