Crist meets with Ala., Ga. governors on water-sharing

By The News Service of Florida
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Gov. Charlie Crist met with his two neighboring governors today in Alabama to renew efforts to resolve a dispute over water usage and the three emerged confident they’ll resolve the dispute rather than let a federal judge’s solution stand.

Gov. Bob Riley of Alabama and Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia, huddled with Crist in Montgomery hoping to get the states in position to work out a plan for sharing the water that comes from the Atlanta area through the Chattahoochee River and down into the Flint and Apalachicola Rivers.

At the Chattahoochee headwaters, Atlanta siphons off more water than the two downstream states say is fair. They need the water for power and for keeping a healthy seafood industry where the system dumps into the Gulf of Mexico.

Florida and Alabama say – and a federal judge recently agreed – that the system must benefit all three states and that Georgia has improperly taken too much water out of the reservoir at the upper end of the system.

The effort is particularly important for Georgia – which may see its own water use curtailed dramatically if the three states can’t agree because of the judge’s ruling earlier this year. But the court gave the states three years to work out a consensus solution before the judicial remedy would go into effect.

“I think everyone in Washington, at our state legislatures, I think everyone wants the governors to be able to work this out,” Alabama’s Riley said following the meeting.

Few details of what the states want to see for a flow plan have emerged, but the governors said Tuesday that lawmakers in each state will likely have to approve any new water sharing agreement.

Riley said the governors won’t tell the public or stakeholders much about the details of the negotiations. Asked if he could release any details, Riley simply said, “No.”

Riley said the states were seeking an apportionment of the water that “adequately reflects the needs of every one of our constituents.

“And if we get much more specific than that, then it’s going to be something that adds an impediment to the success of our team,” Riley said in a news conference following the talks.

Perdue reiterated, however, that the govrernors have made an agreement to try to agree – rather than have the water flows revert to 1970s benchmarks, which would happen under the federal court ruling if the sides can’t work out an alternative by the deadline. That would be a disaster for Atlanta, which has grown dramatically since the 1970s.

But while a new agreement may be most crucial for Georgia, Crist also expressed a strong desire to have the issue hammered out by the states, rather than accepting the federal judge’s fallback solution.

“People expect us to get things done, they don’t expect us to sit around and argue all day long,” Crist said. “They expect us to … work together for the common good and for the greater good.”