U.S. Water News Online
WASHINGTON -- Georgia's congressional delegation has
proposed legislation aimed at replenishing Georgia's shrinking water
supply by suspending Endangered Species Act regulations during
periods of extreme drought.
The bill would apply nationally, but Georgia lawmakers
particularly hoped to stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' practice
of releasing water from Georgia lakes to protect threatened mussels
and sturgeon downstream in Florida.
The bill will probably face strong resistance if it advances. But
in a rare show of bipartisan unity, Georgia's lawmakers rallied
around it as a "common sense" solution to the state's persistent
Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Moultrie said Georgia's water
is being restricted to "protect a handful of mussels and sturgeon,"
leading people to wonder whether Congress cares more about animals
than human beings.
"This is a crisis," added Rep. John Lewis, an Atlanta Democrat.
Georgia, Florida and Alabama have been fighting for nearly two
decades over water rights from two river basins in the region.
A key point in the dispute is how much water the Corps releases
from reservoirs such as Lake Lanier outside Atlanta to ensure
downstream habitats for rare species of freshwater mussels and Gulf
sturgeon, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Water levels at Lake Lanier are down dramatically, and without
rain, climatologists say the water source for more than 3 million
people could run dry in just three months. Georgia officials,
including Gov. Sonny Perdue, have insisted the Corps slow or stop the
release of water until Lanier and other lakes are replenished.
But Florida has argued that the Corps is still not releasing
enough water to keep the endangered and threatened species from
dying. And Alabama says it needs continued flows to meet industrial
needs, including for a nuclear power plant in the southeastern corner
of the state.
The Georgia bill would allow states to win exemptions from
Endangered Species Act protections when the secretary of the army or
a governor declares that drought conditions are threatening human
health, safety and welfare.
Nicole Cordan, policy and legal director of Save Our Wild Salmon
in Portland, Ore., said similar attempts to scale back the Endangered
Species Act have failed because the law already has safeguards to
protect against unwarranted economic harm.
"It's good to remember why this country enacted the Endangered
Species Act into law," she said. "We did it because we were allowing
economic and development interests to trump the protection of species
on this planet and that was harming us. These species are the
canaries in the coal mine."
David Pope, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law
Center, agreed that the decision should not be narrowly viewed as
affecting just a few mussels or fish.
"It's obviously important to protect people and to protect our
economy, but the long-term consequences have to be examined," he
said. "Maintaining the health of our ecosystem is essential to
maintaining the well-being of our people and our economy."
the U.S. Water News Archives page
Return to the U.S. Water
Use a comma to separate e-mail addresses:
Hi, I thought you might like to read this article.