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WASHINGTON -- Leaders from Alabama and Georgia said they
made progress in their bitter feud over water rights by isolating
areas of disagreement before a meeting with top Bush administration
All four senators and both governors from the states participated
in the morning meeting, which aides described as tense. The lawmakers
said the session was productive, even though leaders from Florida,
which also is embroiled in the dispute, did not attend.
They also sought to temper expectations that the meetings would
yield a breakthrough in the years-long water wars.
"There are lots of issues and to expect that there will be one
simple answer at one meeting is beyond possibility," said Sen. Johnny
Isakson, a Georgia Republican.
Georgia, Alabama and Florida have been locked in a legal battle
over water rights for the better part of two decades. But the fight
has intensified in recent weeks as a record drought has taken over
much of the region. According to the National Drought Mitigation
Center, almost a third of the Southeast is covered by an exceptional
drought, the worst category.
The states' three Republican governors -- Bob Riley of Alabama,
Sonny Perdue of Georgia and Charlie Crist of Florida -- were to meet
with Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and other officials after the
"I wish I could come out here and tell you that Gov. Perdue has
agreed with all our requests, but he has not," Riley said.
The dispute centers on how much water the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers holds back in federal reservoirs near the head of two river
basins in north Georgia that flow south into Florida and Alabama.
The fast-growing Atlanta region relies on the lakes for drinking
water. But power plants in Florida and Alabama depend on healthy
flows in the rivers, as do farms, commercial fisheries, industrial
users and municipalities. The corps also is required to release
adequate flows to ensure habitats for several species of mussels and
sturgeon that are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Georgia officials have argued the corps is ignoring a potential
crisis in Atlanta, whose main water source, Lake Lanier, could have
just a few months worth of water remaining. The state sued the corps
last month, arguing that Georgia has sacrificed more than other
states and that the federal government is putting endangered species
But Alabama and Florida leaders accuse Georgia of failing to plan
for growth. They say the water being released is already not enough
to meet their states' needs and that further reducing it could
cripple their economies.
"(T)he Water in Lake Lanier is not Georgia's water," Alabama Sens.
Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby wrote in a letter to President Bush
this week. "These are federal lakes and the water should be allowed
to fairly flow all along the river."
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